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Dogs Follow their Ears for Food: Study

May 07, 2014 09:21 AM EDT
In this experiment, the dogs know that food is hidden in one of these boxes - but they don't know in which one. To find the tasty snack, they are following the human voice.
(Photo : © MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology)

Dogs can follow human voice directions to find food, a new study has found.

The latest study, conducted by researchers at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that dogs and even puppies can follow the human voice. The study shows that dogs that are used to being around people don't just follow visual cues, but use auditory clues as well.

Previous research has shown that dogs can follow human gaze.

The experiment                                                                  

To study whether dogs and puppies could follow human voice to get a treat, researchers established a complex experiment. The team placed a large wooden barrier and a curtain in a room.

During the test, the human would kneel behind the wooden plank and the dog would be restrained, several feet away from the plank.

The human would stand up from behind the plank and show the dog the treat. The person would then kneel down and place the treat in one of the two smell-proof boxes. The experimenters would raise the curtains to let the dogs see the boxes, but not the person. The human would then face the box with the treat and talk in an excited voice to direct the dog towards the treat.

"Most of the dogs successfully and repeatedly followed the experimenter's voice direction to find the hidden food", said Federico Rossano, one of the study authors. "They performed as well in this task - if not better - than human infants." In a follow up study the researchers ruled out the possibility that dogs could locate the hidden food just via smell.

Study results showed that adult dogs fetched the treat some 7.6 times out of 12. Researchers repeated the experiment with two sets of puppies, with one set being used to human presence.

Researchers found that puppies that were used to being around with people got the treat some 8.1 out of 12 rounds.

"The puppies, too, were able to use the human's voice direction to find the hidden food," said Rossano. "Interestingly, the group of normally socialized puppies even outperformed the adult dogs while the ones with little contact with humans performed at chance level."

The study shows that dogs can use vocal cues to find food. Other animals such as wolves, which are genetically closer to dogs, and even chimpanzees which are related to humans, didn't display such behavior.

"Dogs may have been selected for their ability to pay special attention to humans," said Rossano. "This set of social skills may have become part of their genetic repertoire".

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Check the videos of the experiment, here

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