London - Dog lovers like to think it is their masterful voices that make their pets so keen to please.
In fact, it is more complex than that – with eye contact playing an important role alongside spoken commands.
Scientists have found the animals pick up not only the words we say, but our ‘intent to communicate’ with them. In fact, dogs are as advanced as a two-year-old child in following eye contact, a study has found.
Jozsef Topal, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said: ‘Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills.
“The way dogs work resembles that of a six-month to two-year-old child in a lot of respects.
‘”Dogs even watch how we make eye contact, to work out what we mean and why we are talking to them.
“Dogs, as well as human infants, are sensitive to cues that signal our intent,” says Topal.
Topal's team tested dogs with videos of a person saying, “Hi, dog!” in different tones of voice and using different levels of eye contact.
The dogs can 'read' the eye contact and enthusiasm as well as youngsters, the team found. Dogs know when they are being spoken to - and can even make a guess at what you are thinking.
Dr Topal said that the results will undoubtedly confirm what many dog owners and trainers already know.
However, whether or not dogs rely on similar pathways in the brain for processing those cues isn't yet clear.
Doctor Topal's team presented dogs with video recordings of a person turning toward one of two identical plastic pots while an eye tracker captured information on the dogs' reactions.
In one condition, the person first looked straight at the dog, addressing it in a high-pitched voice with “Hi dog!”
In the second condition, the person gave only a low-pitched “Hi dog” while avoiding eye contact.
The researchers found that the dogs were more likely to follow along and look at the pot when the person first expressed an intention to communicate.
Dr Topal added: “Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants.”
However, it is the first study to use eye-tracking techniques to study dogs' social skills.
Dr Topal said: ‘By following the eye movements of dogs, we are able to get a first-hand look at how their minds are actually working.
“We think that the use of this new eye-tracking technology has many potential surprises in store.”
The research was published online in the journal Current Biology. - Daily Mail