Is your dog able to read your thoughts? This question was asked in a recent study published in the Learning and Behavior journal investigating the behavior of canines. The conclusion they reached was yes and no.
A University of Florida research group wanted to find out the origins of how dogs respond to human gestures, in particular what the lead author of the study, Monique Udell, calls "attentional states."
They studied the dogs (from shelters and domestic situations) that were given the choice of begging for food from a person whose eyes were concealed against one whose attention was focused on the dog. The same experiments were carried out with wolves to see if there were any genetic barriers preventing them from responding to attention cues in the same way a domesticated animal would.
The research found that both dogs and wolves were less likely to seek food from a person who had their backs to them, which according to the papers authors, indicates the "capacity to behave in accordance with a human’s attentional state." In layman’s terms, this means that both dogs and wolves have a possible inherent ability to sense how people were acting, regardless of whether or not they grew up in contact with humans.
The study also revealed that dogs raised as pets rather than in shelters were more likely to respond to cues when they had a human’s attention, indicating that during the time they live with people they learn to better understand what their behavior means.
“What this shows is that’s it’s not a question of nature versus nuture,” explained Udell. “It’s always going to be a combination of the two that informs a dog’s responsiveness to humans.”
So while your pooch may not be able to read your thoughts, over time your actions certainly affect the way he acts.
Udell concluded that people could take this information and use it to train the dog of their dreams.
“Dogs aren’t born man’s best friend,” she said. “The experiences they have and the type of environment they live in – those influence their behavior. If you want a dog that’s very responsive to human’s, that does take work.”