JoAnna Lou
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Canines v. Chimps
Dogs understand pointing better than chimps

A few years ago I took my dogs to the Harvard Canine Cognition Lab to participate in some really interesting research. One of the studies looked at the dogs' understanding of gestures, such as pointing. I didn't think my pups were really making the association in the lab, but at home I do think that they seem to understand when I'm pointing at things. Maybe it's just a shared understanding we've developed after years of living together.

Despite my anecdotal findings, apparently dogs are pretty good at understanding gestures. Previous studies have shown this before, but recent research shows that dogs are even better in this area than chimps.

A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany presented 20 chimps and 32 dogs with the same task, retrieving an object that a researcher pointed to. The team found that the dogs were much more successful than the chimps.

The researchers think that pointing may be a human form of communication, which is why the chimps couldn't understand the concept. However, they were puzzled by the fact that the dogs were able to pick up on the pointing.

I wonder if this has to do with the close relationship we have with our dogs. They've evolved around humans and previous studies have shown that they can understand our body language. It's a pretty cool concept!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Living in Monrovia/flickr.

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