By Joe Wilkes
Researchers in Hungary completed a study that shows that dogs respond to eye contact and verbal and nonverbal cues from humans similarly to human children in the two-year-old range who haven’t started talking. Some dogs are even able to understand American Sign Language, the hand signals used by the hearing impaired to communicate.
Dogs were able to read nonverbal cues and sense the emotion of the human, especially when the human used eye contact. According to ABC News, Nicholas Dodman, the director of the Animal Behavior Center at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, said “Dogs are looking for an expression of what the person is thinking…This is another example of a supposed barrier between animals and humans being knocked down by research.”
The study conducted by the Institute for Psychological Researches at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest used actresses who addressed the dogs and turned their attention to a pot. One group of actresses made eye contact with the dog and the dogs’ eyes were tracked to follow the actresses’ eyes looking at the pot. The dogs who did not get eye contact from the actresses were less likely to look at the pot. Additionally, the study showed, the dogs were more responsive to high-pitched “baby talk” voices than lower normal conversational tones.
The study helps prove that dogs are more attuned with our energy, tone of voice, and other nonverbal behaviors than we might have imagined. Other studies have shown that dogs possess small vocabularies of words they hear their humans say repeatedly, but these scientific studies have helped quantitatively support the anecdotal evidence that pet owners have seen of dogs responding intuitively to their humans’ energy and nonverbal signs. The studies also underscore Cesar’s observances of dogs who are able to sense the energy that a human brings into a room, how they respond to touch, vocalizations, eye contact, and how their behavior is affected. So for all of you out there who say your dog is like your baby, you may be more right than you thought!