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Dogs communicate with people more than other animals

After a decade studying dogs in their human habitat, Hungarian scientists have suggested that dogs have far greater mental capabilities than scientists had thought. Dogs' smarts, it turns out, come out in their relationships with people. Scientists now have reason to consider what dog-human communications may say about language skills development. Dogs may also make better cognitive study subjects than primates.

Until recently, domestication was thought to have dulled dogs' intelligence.

One of the Hungarian scientists suspected that dogs await permission to act, that they regarded test challenges as a violation of their master's rules.

Dogs have acquired an innate ability
to pay attention to people,
and thus to communicate and work with them.

In 1997, Csanyi and his colleagues tested 28 dogs of various ages, breeds, and closeness to their owners, to see if they could learn to obtain cold cuts on the other side of a fence by pulling on the handles of dishes while their owners were present. Dogs with a close relationship to their owners fared worse than outdoor dogs. But when the dogs' owners were allowed to give the animals verbal permission, the gap between the groups vanished.

Dogs also excel at imitating people. The team found that some dogs can even imitate previously unseen actions performed by a person they haven't had close contact with.

Dogs' unusual ability and motivation to observe, imitate, and communicate with people appears to be with them from birth. Graduate students were given either a puppy or a wolf cub to raise and feed by hand, coddling and doting on them.

At five weeks, each cub was placed in a room containing an adult and the student who had raised the cub. Both sat motionless. But while the wolf cubs merely sniffed both humans before climbing into the student's lap to sleep, the puppies yipped at their caregivers, licking their hands and trying to establish contact.

Three months later, the canines were given the opportunity to try to remove a piece of meat from under a cage by pulling on a rope in the presence of their caregiver. Dogs and wolves both mastered this promptly. Then the rope was anchored, making it impossible to obtain the meat. The dogs tried a couple of times, then turned to their masters for assistance or cues. The wolves ignored their caregivers, yanking on the rope until exhausted.

To the researcher, this proves that dogs have acquired an innate ability to pay attention to people, and thus to communicate and work with them. This is a skill that wolves don't assume even when raised from birth to learn it.

That's why dogs can do things no other animal can do.