Canine Companions collaborates with multiple universities to conduct top-notch research on canine health and behavior. Our goal is to better understand which traits lead to a successful working dog. To do this, we study how dogs think and problem solve, how these abilities develop and change over time, and how dogs’ individual experiences and genes contribute to these skills. The studies that come out of these collaborations contribute to our knowledge of canine wellness and cognition, as well as the formation of the human-animal bond.
Puppies are wired to communicate with people
In our most recent study, published this month in Current Biology, we tested 375 Canine Companions puppies on multiple tasks that measured puppies’ social skills. The testing occurred when puppies were approximately 8.5-weeks old, right before they were placed with their volunteer puppy raisers.
We were able to draw two main conclusions from the study. First, in the largest sample to date, we show that puppies will reciprocate human social gaze, and successfully use information given by a human in a social context from a very young age and prior to extensive experience with humans. For example, even before puppies have left their littermates to live one-on-one with their volunteer raisers, most puppies are able to find hidden food by following a human pointing gesture to the indicated location. Second, these social skills have a very strong genetic component. 43% of the variation that we see in point-following ability is due to genetic factors. The same proportion of variation in eye contact behavior during a human-interest task is explained by genetic factors as well. These are quite high numbers, much the same as estimates of the heritability of intelligence in humans. All these findings suggest that dogs are biologically prepared for communication with humans.
See links below for more information.
Puppies are born ready to interact with people, study finds – CNN*
Pup’s looking at you, kid: Puppies can understand human cues from very young age – NBC*
Puppies Are Born Ready to Communicate With Humans – The Smithsonian Magazine*
Puppies are born with the genetic ability to understand humans – New Scientist*
Born social: Puppies’ genes guide them in human interactions – Yahoo*
Radio Interviews & Podcasts
Puppies Understand You Even at a Young Age, Most Adorable Study of the Year Confirms – Scientific American 5-min podcast*
New study shows puppies are born able to understand and communicate with humans – Quirks and Quarks CBC radio segment*