Dogs have been domesticated by humans since 11,000 years ago, and much of their canine behavior—including their way of communicating with humans—is inherited from a long history with mankind.
But a new study by Mendes, Resende, and Savalli shows that a dog’s life experiences and environment further inform the way they interact with humans, especially to achieve a certain objective (like obtaining food).
The research, as reported by science news network Phys.org, was conducted at Brazil’s University of São Paulo and supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation.
One highlight of the study is its discussion on “gaze alternation.”
Gaze alteration is a common behavior initiated by dogs to communicate with humans and seek the latter’s help in accessing unattainable objects, like food or a toy that’s out of reach. Three groups of dogs were studied in terms of how they expressed gaze alternation: dogs that lived with their owners inside homes, dogs that lived outside homes, and dogs that lived in shelters.
The results of the study showed that 95.7% of dogs in the first group, or the ones that had the closest and most frequent interactions with humans indoors, used gaze alternation to communicate at least once. The dogs comprising the second group, or the ones that lived outside, communicated less intensely at 80%.
In contrast, only 58.8% of the dogs in the third group, or the ones that lived in shelters, interacted with humans.
The researchers noted that while all three groups of dogs were capable of communicating with humans via gaze alternation, there were key variations in how intensely they all did so. The dogs that spent the most time with humans up close were more disposed to using gaze alternation as a communication strategy. Dogs that had adapted to shelter life with minimal human contact were able to communicate the same way but were less disposed to doing so.
Using Communication to Strengthen Relationships with Dogs
The recent study on dogs’ communication styles highlights that dogs and humans can easily communicate with each other given their shared history. But strong bonds and quality time spent in nurturing environments heighten the depth and frequency of that communication.
Pet parents can learn about the cues their dogs give them when the latter want to eat snacks, play with their wholesale dog toys, or access other custom dog items. Taking note of these cues—and responding to them in the right way—can help dog parents and their pups build a relationship founded on sensitivity, empathy and trust.