While dogs can eventually learn to listen to their owners, some pups seem to be born with an innate ability to understand humans, research published Thursday in the journal Current Biology suggests.
At just 8 weeks old, some of the puppies in the study showed a startling willingness to lock eyes with humans they didn't know and to take command cues, such as directions pointed out with a finger.
"From a young age dogs are displaying humanlike social skills," said the lead study author, Emily Bray, a postdoctoral researcher the Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a researcher at Canine Companions in Santa Rosa, California. "Puppies, even before they have a lot of experience with people, can reciprocate [the] human gaze and can use information from humans in a social context, like pointing as a cue to find hidden food."
To determine whether the tendency to interact with humans was innate, Bray and her colleagues ran several experiments with 375 8-week-old puppies who had little previous one-on-one experience with humans. The puppies were all Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers or a mix of the two breeds. All of the puppies in the study were bred to be service dogs.
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