Dogs respond to non-verbal cues the same way babies do
Jan 16, 2012, 3:06 GMT
London - Dogs pick up on non-verbal cues preceding spoken commands, much in the way that small children do, according to a new study by Hungarian researchers published in the journal Current Biology.
Jozsef Topal and Erno Teglas of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest found that dogs react strongly to hints given with the eyes on the basis of videos played to 61 different dogs. In one of the videos, a woman turns demonstratively toward the dog and says, 'Hallo dog' in a high voice, looking straight at her 'audience.' In a second video, the woman does not look at the dog, greeting it in a low voice and without eye contact.
In all the videos, she then looks at one of two containers, standing on tables to her left and right respectively.
Topal and Teglas recorded the dogs' eye movements and found that the dogs followed the woman's eyes more often after she had looked directly at them and spoken in the high voice, otherwise the probability they would look at the containers was the same. They came to the conclusion that the eye contact, coupled with the manner of speaking to the dogs, was key. Without these factors, not even a colourful disc placed on the top of the woman's head made any difference to the dogs' attention.
Some of the dogs were simply not interested in any of the videos, Topal and Teglas found.
Similar tests have been conducted on six-month-old babies - with highly similar results. The babies also tended to follow the direction the adult was looking in to a greater extent when they had been spoken to directly. The researchers came to the conclusion that dogs recognize the human signals sent out ahead of verbal communication in much the same way as babies do.