Can Your Dog Read Your Mind?

Dog Mindreader 1Can dogs read our minds? Or have they simply learned to read our behavior?

A University of Florida researcher thinks she may have the answer: Dogs’ lifetime experiences inform the way they behave with humans.

And while it may look like dogs intuitively know what humans want or how humans feel, it’s not a telepathic sixth sense that they’re born with that allows them to do this.

Rather, just as humans do, they get to know you and can predict what you might do next based on past experience.

“Dogs do not have actual telepathy,” says Monique Udell, a psychology researcher with a doctorate in the field of animal behavior. “Certainly they are sensitive to reading our body language, and that plays a large role in their success in terms of surviving in our society and living as pets in our homes.”

Udell and two other researchers, along with a team of undergrads, conducted a series of experiments on both dogs and wolves to see if they could come up with an answer to a question that has puzzled many researchers.

Some have argued that dogs have developed a special sensitivity to humans through domestication. Others such as Udell feel the experience a dog or wolf has in its lifetime may contribute to the way they react to people.

To prepare for their study, Udell and co-authors Nicole Dorey and Clive Wynne set up a situation in which a dog or wolf would have to beg for food from a human – one attentive, the other in one of four positions: wearing a bucket over their head, reading a book, their back turned, or their eyes shielded by a camera.

The critical question: Could the dogs or wolves, also hand-reared by people, figure out who could see them and then guess which person would be more likely to provide food.

“What we found is that both dogs and wolves seem to have the capacity to use human cues to determine whether humans are attentive and willing to give food,” said Udell.

“This suggests it’s not just genetic domestication but rather these lifetime experiences of living and being around people are important in developing skills and aren’t exclusive to dogs alone.”

Udell also emphasizes that dogs aren’t born to be man’s best friend or born responsive to people. Rather, dogs are flexible and are learning all the time.

Story by Elaine Furst for Dog Files

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