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Dogs' social intelligence 'similar to toddlers'

Tuesday February 28th 2017

Dogs show similar levels of social intelligence to toddlers, a new study has found.

Research conducted at the University of Arizona in the US found that when asked to perform a number of co-operative communication tasks, such as following someone's pointed finger or gaze, dogs and two-year-olds performed at similar levels.

In comparison, chimps did not perform as well, although they did perform better on tests relating to their physical environment and cognitive reasoning.

Over 550 dogs were involved in the study including a variety of different breeds, pet dogs, assistance dogs in training and military dogs. They took part in several games-based tests that involved researchers hiding treats and then communicating the hiding place using non-verbal cues like pointing. The data was compared with that of 105 two-year-olds and 106 chimpanzees.

Social communication skills, which humans start to develop at around nine months old, are what are typically thought to set humans apart from other species.

"There's been a lot of research showing that you don't really find those same social skills in chimpanzees, but you do find them in dogs, so that suggested something superficially similar between dogs and kids," said Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona.

He added that the bigger question to explore is if the similarities between dogs and toddlers are superficial, or of there is a distinct kind of social intelligence that is common to both species.

The research team suggested that the reason for the similarity may be that dogs and humans have had a similar evolutionary process, with some things that happened in human evolution being very similar to processes that happened in dog domestication.

Copyright Press Association 2017