Ever notice how easy your puppies are to understand your commands? New research claims they are innate.
Very young puppies that had little or no contact with humans were able to respond to basic commands. This indicates that the dog's ability to train is probably genetic.
Dogs are probably the only animals that can understand human commands. Some studies show that even the closest human relatives in the animal kingdom - chimpanzees - cannot do this. But how dogs do this is a matter of debate.
There are two main points of view on this issue. According to the first, dogs spend so much time with people that they gradually learn to distinguish human gestures. Another opinion is that this property is innate in dogs and appeared evolutionarily.
A new study by American scientists, published June 3 in the scientific journal Current Biology , is another argument in favor of the second position. It shows that even dogs at the age of eight weeks understand human gestures, and this depended on their genetics.
Researchers led by University of Arizona professor Emily Bray selected 375 Labrador and Golden Retriever puppies between the ages of eight and ten weeks - when they lived with their mother or other puppies and were almost unfamiliar with humans.
The puppies took part in four experiments to test their social skills. The first two aimed to test how well they understand human gestures: the experimenter showed a cup that hid the goodies and asked the puppy to find them.
To rule out the possibility that the puppies relied on their scent, experiments were performed twice - when the cup of goodies was indicated and not. In the first case, the animals chose the correct cup in 67% of cases, in the second - in 49%, which roughly corresponds to the statistical probability.
During the third experiment, the puppies had to keep eye contact with the experimenter as long as possible while he read the text in a high-pitched voice. On average, they looked a person in the eye for six seconds. And since adult dogs are able to maintain eye contact even longer, this ability is likely to develop over time.
And finally, the fourth test provided that the puppy will be given a rebus that he is able to solve, and he should turn to a person for help. Basically, animals ignored people - and this, according to scientists, also indicates that they learn to turn to humans for help, and are not born with this ability.
The combination of the results of all four experiments, as well as their comparison with information about the pedigree of each puppy, revealed that the understanding of the pointing gesture and the retention of eye contact in the experiments were more than 40% dependent on the genes inherited by the dogs. In other cases, the genetic dependence was not so clearly identified.
And although this is not the first study to come to such a conclusion, it was the first time that such a large number of dogs were involved in it and for the first time it was shown that some forms of communication between dogs and people are obtained by inheritance rather than training.
At the same time, as noted by a scientist at Yale University Zachariah Silver, the study of Bray and colleagues does not provide an answer exactly which traits of interaction with humans dogs inherit and how they learn.