New research shows that stray dogs can respond to cues from a person, suggesting that understanding between humans and canines goes far deeper than training alone.
The study, in Frontiers in Psychology, found that 80 per cent of the stray dogs in the trial successfully followed pointing gestures to a specific location, despite never having received any training. Results revealed that dogs can understand gestures simply by watching humans.
To investigate whether this could have any implications for reducing conflict between stray dogs and humans, Dr Anindita Bhadra and colleagues from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, in West Bengal, studied strays in several cities across India. The researchers approached solitary stray dogs and pointed to one of two covered bowls placed nearby. The more nervous dogs, who may have had a bad experience with humans in the past, did not approach either bowl, while 80 per cent of the strays that approached the bowls, followed the correct cues. These dogs were noted as less wary of people and more friendly.
“We thought it was amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” explained Dr Bhadra. “They are quite capable of understanding our body language and we need to give them their space. A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict.”