Apart from picking up words we say dogs can comprehend our intent to communicate with them, claims a new study.
According to the researchers, dogs' receptivity to human communication is surprisingly similar to the receptivity of very young children, which may help explain why so many people treat their furry friends like their children.
"Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills, with dogs' social-cognitive functioning resembling that of a 6-month to 2-year-old child in many respects," Jozsef Topal from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said.
"The utilization of ostensive cues is one of these features: dogs, as well as human infants, are sensitive to cues that signal communicative intent," he said.
The cues include verbal addressing and eye contact, he explained. Whether or not dogs rely on similar pathways in the brain for processing those cues isn't yet clear.
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 data showed that the dogs were more likely to follow along and look at the pot when the person first expressed an intention to communicate.
"Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants," Topal added.
The study has been published online in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.