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Dogs Instinctively Know Who Is Friendlier

June 12, 2011

Do dogs really know what humans are thinking? According to Monique Udell and her team of researchers from the University of Florida, how a dog responds to a person’s attentiveness to them reveals how dogs think and learn about human behavior.

Recent studies have shown how dogs have a remarkable range of human-like social behaviors, which include their ability to respond to human body language, verbal comments and to our attentional states.

Dr. Udell’s team carried out two experiments involving domesticated dogs, shelter dogs and their relative, the wolf. The animals were given the opportunity to beg for food either from an attentive person or from a person who ignored the animal.

The researchers wanted to know if the rearing and living environment of the animal ““ either sheltered or with a home ““ or the species itself ““ dog or wolf ““ had the greater impact on how the animal performs when given the opportunity to beg for food.

For the first time, the researchers showed that wolves, like domestic dogs, are capable of begging successfully for food by approaching the attentive human.

The results suggest that both species ““ domesticated a non-domesticated ““ have the capacity to behave in accordance with a human’s attentional state.

In addition, the study showed that both species, with practice, were able to improve their ability to beg effectively.

Therefore, dogs from a home environment did better at the task of begging for food than dogs from a shelter. Those dogs with less regular exposure to humans performed badly on the begging task.

“The results suggest that dogs’ ability to follow human actions stems from a willingness to accept humans as social companions, combined with conditioning to follow the limbs and actions of humans to acquire reinforcement,” researchers say.

“The type of attentional cues, the context in which the command is presented, and previous experience are all important.”

The research is published online in the Springer journal Learning & Behavior.

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