A study conducted at the University of São Paulo (USP) showed that different life experiences can change the way animals direct their gaze and communicate with humans to achieve unreachable objects.
By comparing 60 dogs of different breeds and ages, the survey found that 95.7% of those living indoors used alternating glances at least once, while dogs living outside the home communicated with less intensity (80%) .On the other hand, shelter dogs, which have little contact with humans, interacted even less, with 58.8%.
Published in the journal Behavioural Processes and supported by the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP), the study analyzed the action of looking at the desired object or food, looking at the tutor and returning to look at the object, as a form to demonstrate what he wanted, a very common type of communication between the animal and the human being. This is the first experiment that assesses the difference between dogs that live daily with humans indoors and animals that live only outside the homes and have less intense interaction with their guardians.
“We who have our pets observe a lot and, for us, it seems a very obvious thing that they communicate with us through their eyes, that they understand. But, from a scientific point of view, it is a very complex thing, for one species to understand the communicative signals of the other, to be able to produce specific signals to communicate with us. Dogs are very different from most other species, even domesticated ones. They are different from cats, sheep, pigs,” said Juliana Wallner Werneck Mendes, who carried out the experiment at USP’s Psychology Department’s Dog Laboratory during her master’s degree.
Juliana compared pet dogs that live indoors with those that stay in backyards and garages, having less contact with guardians, and dogs from a non-governmental organization (NGO) that rescue dogs. “The conclusion was that those who live indoors and have constant stimulation from their humans, learned that the exchange of looks is an efficient way to get what they want. Backyard dogs have the same ability, but they don’t practice like the others.”
Shelter dogs have the same capacity, but have less opportunity to exercise this because they only live with people during feeding and cleaning. “They use less, which is interesting from a scientific point of view because, according to some authors, because of domestication, dogs communicate automatically, and we see that there is a learning effect. This shows that the various experiences of a lifetime will result in different behaviors.”
According to Juliana, it is easier for dogs trained in agility – a sport with obstacles that strengthens the emotional bonds between the animals and the owners. In addition, positive and non-punitive training methods exert more stimulus for more efficient communication with their tutors. “The whole issue is the lack of encouragement, which makes them use this behavior less, not because they can’t, but because they haven’t exercised it throughout their lives. Even so, it’s interesting that dogs with less stimulation show that they can do it. With a little exposure, they learn pretty fast.”
Juliana also highlights that there is a change in the way humans interact and train their dogs to think about well-being, which is essential. “We also have to recognize that they have their differences and that the well-being of one is different from the other. We can use this for a specific, more patient interaction, taking into account the dog’s needs, and not just the human one”, he concluded.