Can dogs read our minds?

June 10th, 2011 - 1:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 10 (IANS) How do dogs learn to beg for food or behave badly, particularly when they are not paid any attention? It’s a combination of specific cues, context and previous experience, say researchers.

How your pet comes to respond to the level of people’s attentiveness tells us something about the way dogs think and learn about human behaviour, says University of Florida’s Monique Udell, who conducted the study with her team.

Their research suggests it is down to a combination of specific cues, context and previous experience, reports the journal Learning & Behaviour.

Recent work has identified a remarkable range of human-like social behaviours, including dogs’ ability to respond to human body language, verbal commands, and to attentional states, according to a Florida statement.

Udell and team carried out two experiments comparing the performance of pet dogs, shelter dogs and wolves given the opportunity to beg for food from either an attentive person or from a person unable to see the animal.

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

This demonstrates that both species — domesticated and non-domesticated — have the capacity to behave in accordance with a human’s attentional state.

Besides, both wolves and pet dogs were able to rapidly improve their performance with practice. The authors also found that dogs were not sensitive to all visual cues of a human’s attention in the same way.

In particular, dogs from a home environment rather than a shelter were more sensitive to stimuli predicting attentive humans. Those dogs with less regular exposure to humans performed badly on the begging task.

These results suggest that dogs’ ability to follow human actions stems from a willingness to accept humans as social companions, the researchers said.

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