Notwithsatnding the fact that chimpanzees share many of our genes, scientists have determined that dogs can actually serve as better models when it cometo studying human social behavior, since they have lived with us for a long period.
"Shared environment has led to the emergence of functionally shared behavioral features in dogs and humans and, in some cases, functionally analogous underlying cognitive skills," lead author Jozsef Topal explained to Discovery News.
Cooperation, attachment to people, understanding human verbal and non-verbal communications, and the ability to imitate are just a handful of the social behaviors we share with dogs.
While there is no evidence to support that dogs and humans co-evolved their laundry list of shared behaviors over the past 10,000 to 20,000 years, the researchers believe adapting to the same living conditions during this period may have resulted in the similarities.
Topal and his team argue that dogs should serve as the "new chimpanzees" in comparative studies designed to shed light on human uniqueness.
"In my view, pet dogs can be regarded in many respects as 'preverbal infants in canine's clothing'," he said.
In one of many recent studies conducted by the team, Topal and his colleagues taught both a 16-month-old human child and mature dogs to repeat multiple demonstrated actions on verbal command - "Do it!," shouted in Hungarian.
The actions included turning around in circles, vocalizing, jumping up, jumping over a horizontal rod, putting an object into a container, carrying an object to the owner or parent, and pushing a rod to the floor.
The dogs "performed surprisingly well and at a comparable level to the 16-month-old child," Topal said.
Multiple studies mentioned by the authors also support that dogs exhibit all three primary types of social behavior that humans evolved when they split from chimpanzees 6 million years ago.
The first is "sociality," or organization into groups where members are loyal to each other and display reduced aggression.
The second is synchronization, where following shared social rules and even taking on each other's emotions helps to strengthen group unity.
The third is "constructive activity," where individuals within a group cooperate and communicate with each other to achieve goals.
"The dog has come into its own as a great new model for understanding the mind in general, and the evolution of the human mind in particular," said Marc Hauser, a professor and director of the Cognitive Evolution Lab at Harvard University.
"Not only have we lived with dogs for thousands of years, but because of this relationship, we have acted as an agent of selection to modify aspects of their behavior and minds," he added.