Forget treats, love makes dog man's best friend: Study
- Stray dogs show signs of attachment and trust even after brief petting by an unfamiliar human
- Dogs have acquired the ability to understand human actions, emotions, and gestures from an early age
- Without prior training, 80% of a sample of stray dogs responded to pointing gestures to specific locations
Human affection for dogs expressed through acts such as petting may have played a much larger role in the domestication of dogs than the lure of food, according to research conducted by canine behaviour biologists in India.
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Kolkata conducted a six-month study and discovered that stray dogs show signs of attachment and trust even after brief petting by an unfamiliar human.
Their findings shed new light on the domestication of canines over thousands of years, beginning 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, when wolves began scavenging for leftover food around human settlements.
“They came for food, but stayed on for love,” Anindita Bhadra, an associate professor at the IISER department of biological sciences who led the study that involved observing stray dogs in three towns in Bengal and one in Karnataka, told Telegraph India.
Dogs have acquired the ability to understand human actions, emotions and gestures from an early age as a result of the domestication process, including pointing gestures to locate hidden food rewards.
Bhadra, research scholar Debottam Bhattacharjee, and colleagues found that without prior training, 80% of a sample of stray dogs responded to pointing gestures to specific locations.
They discovered that dogs responded to even brief pointing, implying that they have an innate ability to understand certain human gestures that is independent of training.
In their most recent study, the researchers gave brief petting to 80 stray dogs in Kalyani, Mohanpur, Raiganj, and Bangalore neighbourhoods, as well as two sets of pointing gestures: one informative gesture that led to food rewards at the locations pointed out, and the other deceptive gesture with no food reward, according to a Telegraph India report.
They found that dogs who were petted followed pointing gestures regardless of whether they were deceptive or led to food rewards. Dogs who did not receive petting, on the other hand, were able to distinguish between reward-linked and deceptive gestures.
“Dogs given petting continued to trust even when bluffed,” Bhadra said. “This was with three days of petting once a day. “This suggests that petting plays a big role in generating trust.”
Food had little impact on trust. “This makes adaptive sense — people may lure dogs with food and harm them, but those who show love never do that,” Bhadra said. Dogs have thus adapted to use petting as a cue for trust.
The new findings, which were published in the research journal Animal Cognition, shed new light on the role of positive human interactions in the domestication of dogs.
While wolves may have started the domestication process by hanging around human settlements, independent scientists have previously argued that humans may have played a role in domestication as well.