Puppy kissing a boy lying in the grass
Ariel Skelley / Getty
The positive effects of owning a dog are undeniable (and yes, I may be biased and slightly obsessed with Must Love Dogs, but listen to me). Whether physically or emotionally, there is evidence that owning a dog contributes to our happiness and health. They helped us stay healthy during the pandemic and they are even consistent with our children. In addition, pet therapy with older adults has been shown to improve cognitive functioning of residents with mental illness in long-term care. Paw-sensitive reasons galore!
But did you know that dogs seem ready to interact with us? We know so much about what our canine companions can do for us, but what’s going on on their minds? Dogs show social skills and an interest in human faces as early as 8 weeks of age, according to a study published June 3 in the journal Current Biology.
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“Puppies will look at and reciprocate a person’s social gaze and successfully use the information that person is given in a social context at a very young age, all before they have extensive human experience,” said Emily Bray, postdoctoral fellow at The Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona School of Anthropology told CNN.
Bray and her team rated 375 puppies, every 8 weeks old, and either Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, or Golden and Lab Mixes. She rated them on social-cognitive measures, from eye contact tasks to following hand gestures. For example, in one part of the study, dogs were asked to follow the hand movement of a gripper to find a treat under a cup. Other parts of the study included eye contact between the dog and a researcher. These are things adult dogs are good at, Bray says, but researchers took a closer look at when that ability begins.
“Most puppies will have chosen the right mug 70% of the time,” said Bray. Sometimes they even chose the right cup on the first try. The results seem to suggest that the ability to follow human cues begins even before puppies have been fully socialized with humans.
The story goes on
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The study expanded to test the same dogs as they got older, and it’s not surprising that puppy task performance improved with age, particularly with things like “impulse control and social cues”. But Bray tells CNN that the new research “will provide more clues about the characteristics of a dog that will eventually become a successful working dog”. The result would make the selection and training process for service dogs and guide dogs, for example, more efficient.
More research needs to be done to find out which canine genes match with certain traits, but Bray seems up for the job.
“There’s a lot to do with puppies,” she joked to CNN. “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.”