In a bit of research in dreamland, animal behaviorists at the University of Arizona were able to study how 375 golden and labrador retriever puppies performed on human communication tests.
The study was conducted to examine whether human-canine communication, specifically pointing gestures, was a biological skill on board, a trait learned through exposure to humans, and whether the skill was passed down through genetic inheritance.
Ever since the metaphorical first wolf appeared in the light of the campfire, humans have been selectively breeding canines as companions. Pointing at a piece of food, a shooting duck, a thrown stick, or a means of getting past an obstacle is a well-functioning human / canine communication method, but is extremely rare in the animal kingdom.
Even chimpanzees, one of our closest relatives, cannot understand pointing gestures. In contrast, this study showed that 8-week-old puppies could reliably follow pointing gestures just as well as adult dogs.
Additionally, his ability to follow a human finger to a hidden treat did not improve over time, but remained constant at about a 67% success rate. This suggested to the authors that the puppies were born with the skill and did not have to learn it.
Puppy watch puppy do
Service dogs must be geniuses of animals to help people with disabilities or blindness move in a complex environment such as a city, while those bred to help survivors of trauma must have an extreme capacity for empathy.
Finding out where these skills come from, if they can be inherited, and if they vary from breed to breed and from individual to individual is a key step in being able to breed and breed the most effective service dogs.
The researchers partnered with Canine companions for independence, a service dog breeding center that has kept records of the genetic history of animals for decades.
At eight weeks of age, the nearly 400 cubs, all with a genetic breeding background, spend the entire day with their siblings and mother, making them perfect for the study’s goals, Evan MacLean told the Smithsonian magazine..
“They are adorable and they are fun to work with,” she says. MacLean. “But they are puppies, they have a short attention span and they urinate and defecate all over the place. At the beginning of this project, it was like, ‘Cubs!’ And in the end it was, ‘Puppies’ “.
In contrast to the immediate success of pointing to a treat hidden under the face-up cups, the researchers also subjected the puppies to a 30-second praise script in a high-pitched voice to see how long the puppies could keep their attention on the face. of the speaker.
They averaged just 6 seconds, which was less than adult dogs, suggesting that while pointing is instinctive, facial contact is learned. Also, when they are presented with difficult or unsolvable tasks, such as reaching out to eat kibble out of a locked container, puppies may not look for a second at the human’s face for help, which is a well-documented behavior. in adult dogs.
When comparing the success of each puppy in the four trials with those of past generations (thanks to those records in Canine Companions for Independence), it was found that the heritability of success in following human instructions was 40%, huge, according to geneticists who spoke to the Smithsonian about the issue.
About half of the dogs that enter the service program do not become service animals, and this discovery, as well as follow-up research planned by MacLean and his colleagues, could lead to much better programs, saving time and resources, and get the most empathetic dogs to participate in service programs to help people.
(LOOK puppies playing for science in the next video).
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