Dogs are more capable of communicating and performing co-operative communication tasks compared to one of humans’ closest relative – chimpanzees – a new study has shown.
University of Arizona researchers performed a series of tests on toddlers, dogs and chimpanzees to measure their cognition. Chimpanzees performed good in tests that involved physical environment and spatial reasoning; however, when it came to cooperative communication skills such as the ability to follow a pointing finger or human gaze, they couldn’t beat two-year-olds and dogs.
Researchers studied 552 dogs, including pet dogs, assistance-dogs-in-training and military explosive detection dogs, representing a variety of different breeds. The researchers assessed social cognition through game-based tests, in which they hid treats and toys and then communicated the hiding places through nonverbal cues such as pointing or looking in a certain direction. They compared the dogs’ results to data on 105 2-year-old children who previously completed a similar cognitive test battery and 106 chimpanzees assessed at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa.
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Animal Behaviour and its authors are optimistic that their study would help scientists better understand how humans evolved socially. One of the other indirect conclusion of the study could be that dogs are closer to humans than previously thought.
Scientists say one of the possible explanations for the similarities between dogs and humans is that the two species may have evolved under similar pressures that favoured “survival of the friendliest”, with benefits and rewards for more cooperative social behaviour.
Scientists say that understanding human evolution by studying dogs is a relatively new idea as almost all studies around human evolution have looked at close human relatives such as chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas for answers to evolutionary questions. However, the findings of the latest study indicates there is more to dogs and they could reveal clues about human evolution like no other animal.