Chimp and Dog

A new study has revealed what pet owners have always suspected: Dogs understand us better than other animals.

Researchers in Leipzig, Germany, compared how chimpanzees — our closest living animal relative — and dogs responded to human imperative pointing. The person pointed to an object within the dog or chimp’s reach, and the animal was rewarded if he brought the object to the human. Dogs received dry dog food, and chimps got fruit juice or peanuts, according to Discovery News.

The dogs aced the test, while the chimps failed it. The primates’ failure to respond to the pointing has puzzled some researchers who expected the chimps to understand this human gesture, for obvious reasons.

Other researchers theorized that imperative pointing was a uniquely human form of communication and thus one that would not be easily understood by animals, but this doesn't seem to be the case. The study strongly suggests that domesticated dogs, especially gun dogs and sheep dogs, have adapted enough to comprehend it. It’s possible, however, that dogs may be born with this gift, since even six-week-old puppies with no significant training understood the pointing. Prior research also suggests that some domesticated cats understand this human gesture.

“There is multiple evidence suggesting that selection pressures during domestication have changed dogs such that they are perfectly adapted to their new niche, the human environment,” coauthor Juliane Kaminski, a cognitive psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, told Discovery News. Which may mean that, at least in this case, domesticated dogs are closer to humans than chimpanzees. Or at least dogs are the ones who really understand us.

To read more about the study, check out the Discovery News article or read the full study in PloS One.