BLUF

Communication isn’t just something that takes place between humans—we also communicate with our canine friends.

Summary

Recent studies have offered some surprising insights into the ways canines are hardwired to communicate with people. Some key points:
  • Dogs are born ready to communicate with and understand people.
  • Puppies can reciprocate human eye contact and follow gestures to locate food.
  • Puppies raised with little human contact can understand gestures, even without training.
A recent study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that dogs can understand the difference between accidental and deliberate actions. The researchers set up an experiment where a plastic barrier separated a person and a dog. However, there was a gap in the middle large enough for a hand to squeeze through. The barrier did not span the length of the room, so the dogs could go around the barrier if they wanted. The human passed the dog a treat through the gap in three ways:
  1. They offered the treat but intentionally dropped it on their side of the barrier and said, 'Oops'.
  2. Next, they attempted to pass the treat over, but the gap was blocked. 
  3. Lastly, they offered the treat but subsequently pulled back their arm and laughed.
The results showed the dogs waited much longer to retrieve the treat when the experimenter had intentionally withheld it than when they dropped it or couldn't pass it through the barrier. This seems to indicate that dogs can distinguish humans' intentional actions from unintentional behaviour and respond accordingly.