Dogs Able To Interpret Human Gestures

Border Collie

For those who think that our canine friends are simply drooly, unintelligent creatures that only know how to fetch tennis balls and bark, think again. Researchers are showing that dogs can understand human gestures and behavior, have learning strategies, and can even interpret a pointing finger.

Juliane Kaminski of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the eastern German city of Leipzig and her research team are setting out to prove that dogs are intelligent and know a lot more than beef jerky and squeaky toys.

Her team is showing that dogs may even be more clever than monkeys.

Two containers, one empty and one containing food, were both put in front of chimpanzees and dogs. The scientists pointed to the container with food inside. The dogs understood the pointing gesture quickly and went over to inspect the container, while the chimpanzees were mostly confused by the pointing finger.

Also when the scientists looked at a specific container, the dogs would search inside for food. But when the scientists looked in the direction of the container but actually were focused on a point above it on the wall, the dogs understood that this gesture was not meant as a sign to look inside the container. The research team concluded that dogs were able to interpret their gaze.

The research team repeated the pointing experiment with six-week-old puppies. The scientists said even the puppies were able to interpret what the pointing finger meant and went over to investigate the area where the finger was pointing to.

Kaminski concluded that animals must already have the innate ability to interpret human gestures.

Adam Miklosi, a biologist in Budapest and a renown modern dog researcher, showed that wolves lack these abilities to interpret and are also unable to learn them. 13 of his students raised a wolf puppy and fed the wolves, taught them to walk on a leash and respond to basic commands.

The researchers had a group of puppies learn the same things. Both groups of wolves and dogs were taught to remove a piece of meat from a container. Then the researchers closed the containers. The wolves continued to try and get the food, while the dogs stopped and sat down in front of their handlers and stared at them.

“The wolves were only interested in the meat,” Miklósi said, “and, of course, so were the dogs, but apparently they knew that they would reach their goal more quickly by communicating with the people.”

Kaminski said “that dogs can show us how simple mechanisms can enable highly complex understanding.”

Three years ago, Kaminski’s team published a report on Rico, a border collie who was able to distinguish between 200 different toys. He also learned new concepts using the same procedure of how young children learn the meaning of new words. A number of dogs with similar abilities to Rico’s have been reported to the research team.

Friederike Range, a biologist at the University of Vienna, is showing that dogs use selective imitation as a learning strategy. Before this concept was believed to be only used by one-year-old children. Range was able to teach her dog how to push a handle to open a food dispenser by using her paw and not her nose.

Range said that dog education is changing and more and more owners want to test their dogs for intelligence. She said she gets two to three dog owners a week wanting to check how intelligent their dog is. Kaminski said her research team has about 1,000 potential test dogs in their database.

Now we just have to worry about our dogs outsmarting us.

Source: Spiegel

12 Responses to “Dogs Able To Interpret Human Gestures”

  1. nora says:

    I agree that dogs recognize these signals and body language. My Aussie follows my pointing finger with his gaze, and knows when I look up and say “Look Rufus” that the canadian geese are flying overhead. When we are driving in the car and other dogs are being walked down the sidewalk and I point and say “puppies”, he whips his head around to check out whomever is strolling down the walkway, ears perked and focused. When the “Ultimate Dog Challenge” is showing on the Animal Planet on Sunday mornings and the Frisbee Championships are on, “we watch together and he REALLY WATCHES these doggies flying through the air with great interest. He also likes to watch some of the Agility Meets and Flyball!

  2. catmom5 says:

    My cats weren’t all that impressed when I read them the article. Said something about they could do all that and more ~ but they had better things to do (like power naps) and besides they had trained staff to do those things for them!

  3. Trudy Jackson says:

    Catmom5, HAHA, I know just what you mean.
    But when My Springer went deaf, I used hand signals and He knew just what I meant.

  4. kaefamily says:

    Well, our lit’ guy thinks WE need to learn to better interpret HIS gestures and body language :-(

  5. Lynne says:

    I’ve long believed dogs also communicate in ways we don’t understand. I’ve watched two of my schnauzers stand and stare at each other, then turn and go do something together. Were they “talking” to each other? They both stare at me as if trying to communicate also. This will sound far out, but I’ve thought pictures to them (the treat box) and they perk up and head for the treat box. As Mark Twain once remarked, animals seem dumb to man because of man’s dull perceptions.

  6. furmom says:

    Haha, oh so clever scientists have finally proven what dogs have known for thousands of years, dogs read people like a book. They don’t just follow our pointing finger, I know my dog follows my gaze, and even reads my breathing for goodness sake. They know what we are thinking, feeling, how to train us, and when their attempts to control us are working or not. I’ve seen him switch strategies many times to get me to do what he wants. One dog could tell whether I was actually watching him for misbehavior (taking off) or momentarily distracted and not watching (that’s just when he took off). He could tell that I couldn’t see him in the dark, but could in the dusk (he was black), so he cold escape. We humans aren’t very clever by dog standards and they know it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    “Her team is showing that dogs may even be more clever than monkeys.”

    and monkeys may be more clever than researchers

  8. Anonymous says:

    “dogs can understand human gestures and behavior, have learning strategies, and can even interpret a pointing finger.”

    More than can be said of the FDA et al…….

  9. mzcelie says:

    No surprise 2 me .. I had a standard poodle who became deaf when she became an OLD DOG ( yes, they CAN learn new tricks!! ) She was so intelligent …I taught her a number of signs in ASL (American Sign Language ) that deaf people use. She had no trouble understanding me for 3 years. Moreover, a “handy” friend made her a homemade wooden dog biscuit dispenser. She had to put her paw on a lever and step on it in order to dispense the “cookies”..Only problem was we had to take it away from her & hide it, or she’d empty the container !!

  10. Lynn says:

    A girlfriend of mine is deaf. Years ago she trained her 3 dogs to understand a fair amount of the American Sign Language. This is especially handy now, years later, because two of the dogs are deaf themselves.

  11. furmom says:

    How deaf dogs cope is fascinating. My dog had a pal at the dog park who was totally deaf. My dog had a “listening”problem when called to come from playing at the dog park. But when the two were together, and I called, the deaf dog came to me right away, my guy took a little longer to “hear” me.I should add that I think the deaf dog was coming because he read the body language of my dog who heard me, but was refusing to come.

  12. agility1 says:

    This is really of no surprise to me . I train two of my Jack Russell Terriers in agility, and body language and posturing are an important part of our training. Hand signals have been used for centuries in dog training. My dogs also know hand signals for all of their tricks and commands, ie.. sit, stay, come, lie down, heel, jump etc.

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