New research in the journal Animal Behaviour confirms what dog people have always known – dogs and people have a lot in common.
Researchers at the University of Arizona looked at how 2 year olds, dogs and chimpanzees performed in tests designed to measure how subjects acquire knowledge and understanding, and found that the toddlers and dogs performed more similarly than did toddlers and chimpanzees (our closest relative). Both the dogs and toddlers did well on tests that measured cooperative communication, such as the ability to follow a pointing finger or human gaze.
“There’s been a lot of research showing that you don’t really find those same social skills in chimpanzees, but you do find them in dogs, so that suggested something superficially similar between dogs and kids,” lead researcher Evan MacLean said. “The bigger, deeper question we wanted to explore is if that really is a superficial similarity or if there is a distinct kind of social intelligence that we see in both species.”
“There are different kinds of intelligence, and the kind of intelligence that we think is very important to humans is social in nature, and that’s the kind of intelligence that dogs have to an incredible extent,” he said.
According to MacLean, the findings could help scientists better understand how humans evolved socially and could help researchers better understand human disabilities, such as autism, that may involve deficits in social skills.
The researchers worked with 552 dogs of various breeds, including pet dogs, assistance-dogs-in-training and military explosive detection dogs. They compared the dogs’ results to data on 105 2-year-old children who completed similar tests and 106 chimpanzees from wildlife sanctuaries in Africa.