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Free up your schedule, your dog wants to chat8 min read

July 23, 2021 6 min read

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Free up your schedule, your dog wants to chat8 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Part 2 of this story is available. Click on the next page at the bottom of this article.

Do you ever look at your dog and wonder whether they love you as much as you adore them? Then, do you catch yourself feeling ridiculous and realise that dogs are dogs, and as someone is feeding them, they’ll love them? So, you rush to the kitchen and grab a treat to make sure that you still hold a top stop in your dog’s heart and aren’t just some fool who divulges all your secrets to the creature for no reason at all.

Well, for all you insecure pet companions, there’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news is that, as it turns out, dogs may love us, humans, for the conversation. In fact, that may be what bonds the two species in such a unique way. The bad news is that all humans communicate, and dogs can connect with humans with even more ease than we once believed. So, you’d better stock up on as many treats and pets as possible as long as you’re still vying for your pets love and attention.

Anyway, how do we know that dogs can understand our mindless chatter (well, to an extent but probably better than other species)? Yup, you guessed it, we’ve learned this fantastic fact through the worlds cutest experiment. It involves 44 puppies!

seven puppies wearing jackets
Some of the puppies that were involved in the experiment. Image: ScienceNews.org

The experiment

Experiment Discover Sticker

So, it all started when the researcher Hannah Salomons who studies canine cognition, and some of her colleagues decided to compare dogs with their close relatives, wolves. Dogs and wolves have evolved from the same ancestors. So, they display similar behaviours and share common genes.

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WHAT?

Alright, alright. Let me break it down for you.

Canine cognition, the subject that Hannah studies, deals with how all the species belonging to the dog family understand the world. The dog family includes wolves, foxes, jackals, and so on and so forth.

Dogs and wolves belong to the same family. That means that back in the day, thousands of years ago, they shared a common relative. Then, through the process of evolution, two distinct species evolved.

Genes are what determine how we behave, think and evolve. Genes are components of every living creatures body, and the closer our relationship is to a creature, the closer our genes will be.

bonhomme.brussels science covid dna adn Sticker

Did you know that all animal species are eventually related to one another? And that’s because at some point, we all had a common ancestor! Yup, humans are no exception to this rule.

Want to know more about evolution? Check out these articles to understand genes and how they’ve evolved to create pesky creatures like you and me.

Anyway, let’s get back to the experiment. So, now that you know why Hannah and her colleagues decided to study dogs and wolves. Let’s see how they did it.

The Recipe for the experiment:

wolf puppy
One of the wolf puppies that was used in the experiment. Image:ScienceNews.org

Forty-four adorable dog pups between 5 and 18 weeks old. They must live with their mum and have minimal human interaction
Thirty-seven precious wolf puppies. They must grow up around humans and leave their mums just 10 or 11 days after their birth.

Why are there all these specifications?

The idea behind the experiment was to understand whether dogs learn to communicate with humans as they grow up with us or whether their genes already make it easy for them to be our companions. Moreover, the scientists wanted to understand whether dogs are better at communicating with humans than other species. So, they kept the dogs away from humans, so they didn’t learn any human behaviour just from hanging out with us, and they gave the wolves a headstart. The wolves had constant human companionship, and people even slept with the wolves to create a tighter bond.

The Method

Animation Sorting GIF by Bullpen

So, once the elements of the experiment were fully prepped, they were ready for their tests. It was time for the final showdown. The scientists hid some food and expected each of the animals to find it. They gestured towards the food, looked at it, put a wooden block near it, and talked to the animals to guide them. They kept the food just far enough so that the animals couldn’t sniff out the food and eat it.

The results

Wolf pups

So, what do you think happened. Well, everything I’ve said so far would be pretty silly if the wolves performed better. The scientists also carried out tests to determine the memory capabilities and sense of control of the animals. Both wolf pups and dog pups performed almost identically in these tests. However, when it came to communicating with humans and taking our help, dogs performed far better than the wolves.

Chatty Pet Coworkers Work From Home Problem - off the mark cartoons
Illustrator: Mark Parsi

Even though the wolves had grown up with the humans interacting with them, the dogs and humans got on far better. That showed that dogs hadn’t learned to communicate with humans but already had a knack for it. They were able to use their intuition to quickly determine not only what humans were communicating with them but also the fact that the humans were there to help them! This proved that dogs had evolved to communicate with humans over at least 14,000 years of domestication.

In fact, dogs outperformed both our closest relatives, chimpanzees and us humans! Yup, babies take at least a year to attain the level of comprehension that the dogs displayed at just a few weeks old!

The results in numbers

Dogs were twice as likely to follow a wooden box or the point of a finger as a clue.
Dogs were better at making eye contact and asking for assistance. While dog pups would maintain eye contact for an average of 4 seconds, the wolf pups would only stare at humans for about 1.47 seconds before turning away.

Scientists believe that could simply be because dogs are happier being around humans than wolves are. In fact, even when these pups were visited in their cages, they behaved quite differently.

Dogs are born with this readiness to understand that a person would be trying to communicate with them, wolves didn’t have that tendency. It wouldn’t really occur to them that a person would be trying to help them.”

Hannah Solomons, one of the researchers who conducted the experiment

The friendliest of the lot

You often hear the phrase “survival of the fittest”. That means that the smartest, fittest animals survive while others perish. Many see that to mean that stronger animals will succeed over others. Others believe that the most cunning (such as us humans?) will survive over other species that compete with them. Dog populations are growing, and they are thriving as a species. How would you define or understand the phrase “survival of the fittest” in relation to dogs?

With Excerpts From: ScienceNews.org, Scientific American, Science Alert, Helenair, Inverse, and CNN.

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