Social Cognitive Skills

Dog’s Understand Us?

Similar to how humans can interpret dogs’ emotions, dogs can also differentiate their owners’ behavior as well- scientists classify this as a social cognitive skill. A common belief is “dogs’ ability to use human gestures is remarkable compared to other animals” as they have developed “specialized skills in reading human communicative gestures” (Kaminski and Nitzschner 2013).

Over recent years researchers have released a large amount of evidence suggesting “dogs are, to a degree, skillful in using human forms of communication, making them stand out in the animal kingdom” (Kaminski and Nitzschner 2013). While other factors could play a role in favoring this ability such as domestication, dogs are a very intelligent species, and the relationship they share with humans is unique.

Object-Choice Paradigm

The “object-choice paradigm” has been used in a large number of studies. The experimenter “hides food under one of several containers out of the dog’s view and then indicates the target location by giving a social cue, most often pointing” (Kaminski and Nitzschner 2013, Hare et., al 2002). The results demonstrate the ability dogs have to follow and respond to the pointing gesture.

This image helps describe the setup of this experiment. Although a chimpanzee is used in this image it it still the same experiment.


Hypotheses Supporting Domestication

There is two main hypotheses about how selection during domestication played a role in developing dogs’ social skills.

  1. The “by-product hypothesis” which states that dogs’ selection on one trait paved the way for further social cognitive evolution (Kaminski and Nitzschner 2013).
  2. The “adaptation hypothesis” which states humans have actively selected dogs for their ability to use human communicative skills (Kaminski and Nitzschner 2013). This hypothesis is similar to Charles Darwin’s idea of natural selection in which the strongest survive, as our ancestors favored certain breeds over others because of the strength in their ability to read human cues.

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