This is according to new research, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which looked at whether untrained stray dogs were able to understand human pointing gestures.
The study, which was conducted by Anindita Bhadra, PhD, a behavioral biologist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata (IISER Kolkata), and other researchers, worked with homeless dogs in several Indian cities.
Solitary strays were approached and two covered bowls were placed on the ground near them. A researcher then pointed to one of the two bowls, either momentarily or repeatedly, and observed whether or not the dog approached the indicated bowl.
Approximately 80 percent of participating dogs successfully followed pointing gestures, despite having never received prior training from a human.
The results, Dr. Bhadra says, indicate dogs are capable of interpreting human signals simply through observation. This suggests these animals could have an innate ability to understand certain cues and that this capacity transcends training.
“We thought it was quite amazing the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” she says. “This means they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”
While the initial findings suggest canines may have a greater innate sense of understanding than previously thought, Bhadra notes animals with high levels of anxiety tended not to participate in the study, emphasizing the need for future research on how an individual dog’s personality can affect their ability to understand human cues.
To access the study, click here.