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Pooches Sometimes Miss the Point
Date:5/7/2009

Like 2-year-old kids, dogs understand some but not all gestures, researchers say,,

THURSDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs share the same basic functional abilities as 2-year-old kids, at least when it comes to figuring out where older humans have hidden a treat.

So says a team of Hungarian researchers, who also found that 3-year-olds surpass their canine companions when confronted with the task.

At age 3, kids can locate a hidden toy by "reading" a pointed index finger, but younger children and dogs take their cues from the posture or direction of the hand, arm and torso -- even if an index finger is pointing in the opposite direction, the researchers found.

"Dogs are following the general direction that a body is extended," explained Bonnie Beaver, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. "This helps tighten up specifically what are the things that trigger the dog to look. Wolves don't look [at what people are looking at], and that is a difference between the two."

Beaver was not involved in the new study, which was published online in the journal Animal Cognition.

And why this ability in dogs but not their ancestors, the wolf?

"Domesticated animals had to leave their natural environment and were moved to a new 'domestic' in which the human presence is the most important factor," said Gabriella Lakatos, lead author of the study and a research assistant in the department of ethology at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. "In the course of domestication, it became advantageous for the dog if they were controllable and so could comprehend the communicational signals of humans because this ability helps them to adapt to the human social environment."

Pets are often viewed as important family members by people and, in fact, enjoy a "parental" relationship with adults in the household similar to chi
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