Humans and dogs have been living together for a very long time, ever since dogs became the first domesticated animals around 15,000 years ago. Today, both populations are exploding, and the number of stray dogs has become increasingly problematic.
Scientists estimate that there are 300 million stray dogs on the planet. Remarkably, these strays know a surprising amount about their human neighbors, even without living in their homes as pets. Recent research aimed at improving our communication with untrained dogs found that 80 percent of strays in the study could understand basic human gestures, such as pointing.
“We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing. This means that they closely observe the human,” a researcher explained. “This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”
Man's best friend?
- Scientists found that the more shy, anxious animals tended not to participate in the study. More studies are needed to determine how a dog’s personality affects their ability to understand human gestures.
- While there is typically an uneasy peace between humans and stray dogs, animal behaviorists say that strays are never sure whether people want to feed them, pet them, or hurt them.
- In India, for example, there are about 30 million strays, and they pose a major public health risk for rabies.