Dogs Can Learn Human Intent


Recent research conducted and posted in Current Biology indicates dogs and six-month old humans may have equivalent skill sets. The report says dogs not only respond to words, but can understand and anticipate the intentions of their Pet Parents.

Researchers concluded that dogs who were spoken to or who had direct eye contact with a person were more likely to follow the person’s look around a room than if the person didn’t give eye contact. Jozsef Topal, the author of the study, said the results support the idea that dogs are sensitive to communicative cues given by humans which is on par to human infants.

The results of the research adds to previous studies done on the intelligence of dogs including a July 2011 study published in Learning & Behavior which found that domesticated dogs were more likely to beg for food from a person looking at them as opposed to someone who wasn’t looking at them. Additionally, Stanley Coren, a canine intelligence expert, has found through his research that dogs have the developmental abilities of a two-year old human and the average dog can learn the meaning of 165 words.

“Dogs were domesticated for the purpose of working with people, so it’s essential that the two species are able to communicate,” said Adam Goldfarb, director of Pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States. “Even though most dogs have transitioned away from their work of herding or hunting, they’ve retained their communication tools.

In the new study, which was reported on by, 16 dogs watched videos of female actors turning towards a plastic pot. In the first experiment, the actor gazed directly at the dog while turning towards the pot and said in a high-pitched voice, “Hi dog!” In the second experiment the actor performed the same movement but said “Hi Dog” in a low pitched voice without eye contact.

Eye-tracking techniques commonly used to study infant behavior were implemented and researchers determined that the dogs were more likely to follow the human toward the pot when they had been spoken to and received direct eye contact. The second experiment did not cue the dogs to the human’s intent.

“It does seem to be that dogs do look at humans and follow gestures,” said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “This is intuitive to anyone who owns a dog that dogs seem to be more in tune with us than some scientists believe.”

Goldfarb said the new research shows that if we want our dog’s attention we need to be clear about it. People who talk to their dog in a baby-talk voice are doing the right thing and their dog will know you are talking to him or her and will pay attention.

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