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UArizona study finds puppies are wired to communicate with people

(Photo via UArizona)

PHOENIX– A new study released by the University of Arizona on Wednesday found that puppies are wired to communicate with people.

The study revealed genetics may show a link between different dogs and their performance on social tasks such as obedience to pointing gestures, according to a press release.

The lead author of the study, Emily Bray, is a postdoctoral research associate at the UArizona School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Bray has been conducting research involving dogs for the past decade alongside California-based Canine Companions, which is a service dog organization that serves clients with physical disabilities.

She and her team hope to better determine the thought and problem-solving capabilities of the dogs, and the team’s research could have implications for which dogs or dog breeds would serve as better service animals.

“There was evidence that these sorts of social skills were present in adulthood, but here we find evidence that puppies – sort of like humans – are biologically prepared to interact in these social ways,” Bray said in the release.

Bray and her team worked to develop a better understanding of the dogs’ abilities to communicate with people by researching 375 of the organization’s 8-week-old service animal trainees.

The puppies performed a series of tasks designed to measure their social communication skills such as the ability to follow gestures, track movement and pay attention to verbal communication.

“In studies of adult dogs, we find a tendency for them to look to humans for help, especially when you look at adult dogs versus wolves,” Bray said. “Wolves are going to persist and try to independently problem solve, whereas dogs are more likely to look to the social partner for help.”

“In puppies, this help-seeking behavior didn’t really seem to be part of their repertoire yet.”

Bray concluded that, in several ways, this behavior mirrors early childhood development. Co-author of the study, Evan MacLean, said if someone could identify a genetic basis for highly developed social skills, then people would potentially be able to predict service dog candidacy in a puppy prior to its birth.

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