Dogs are often more than dedicated detectives. They get to know what their master is thinking — and they can understand as much as a toddler, says a study.
Scientists have found dogs pick up not only the words their masters say, but also their “intent to communicate” with them. In fact, dogs are as advanced as a two-year-old child in following eye contact.
Jszsef Topal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences said: “Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills. The way dogs work resembles that of a six-month to two-year-old child in a lot of respects.”
Dogs even watch how we make eye contact, to work out what we mean and why we are talking to them, the ‘Daily Mail’ newspaper reported.
“Dogs, as well as human infants, are sensitive to cues that signal our intent,” said Topal, who led the study.
Topal’s team tested dogs with videos of a person saying, “Hi, dog!” in different tones of voice and using different levels of eye contact. The dogs can “read” the eye contact and enthusiasm as well as youngsters, the team found.
Dogs know when they are being spoken to — and can even make a guess at what you are thinking.
Topal said that the results will undoubtedly confirm what many dog owners and trainers already know. However, whether or not dogs rely on similar pathways in the brain for processing those cues isn’t yet clear. In the study, the scientists presented dogs with video recordings of a person turning toward one of two identical plastic pots while an eye tracker captured information on the dogs’ reactions.
In one condition, the person first looked straight at the dog, addressing it in a high-pitched voice with “Hi dog!” In the second condition, the person gave only a low-pitched “Hi dog” while avoiding eye contact.
The scientists found the dogs were more likely to follow along and look at the pot when the person first expressed an intention to communicate.
Topal added, “Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants.”
However, it is the first study to use eye-tracking techniques to study dogs’ social skills.
He said: “By following the eye movements of dogs, we are able to get a first-hand look at how their minds are actually working. We think that the use of this new eye-tracking technology has many potential surprises in store.”
The research has been published in the ‘Current Biology’ journal.