15 December 2003

Canine Companions

LONDON (Reuters)—Thousands of years of joint evolution have made man's best friend into one of the family, an article in the journal New Scientist said on Wednesday [1 March 2000]. Research even indicates that dogs could empathize with the emotions of people who were sad or ill. Research carried out by scientists in Budapest indicates that dogs develop bonds with their owners as children do with their parents, the journal said. "What we found is that just as babies display a variety of levels of attachment towards their parents, dogs also show different levels of attachment to their owner," Adam Miklosi of the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest told Reuters. A study called the "strange situation test" demonstrates that babies are happy to explore a new environment as long as their mother is nearby but become anxious if she leaves. Miklosi found the same behavior in dogs. In 1997, researchers in the United States used DNA techniques to estimate that dogs may have been domesticated as long as 135,000 years ago—previously scientists had thought dogs became domesticated only 14,000 years ago. Thousands of years of co-existence have influenced dogs to become dependent on humans, Miklosi said in the New Scientist article. "The stronger the attachment between a dog and its owner . . . the more likely the pet was to behave in a socially dependent way, relinquishing its powers of independent thought and action," the New Scientist said. Selective breeding of dogs over time has produced animals that form strong bonds and are predisposed to learn and obey rules, New Scientist said. "The dog's natural environment is the human family or other human social settings," the head of the Budapest team, Vilmos Cysani, said in the magazine article. Prolonged exposure to humans has also made dogs more responsive to human gestures than other animals which are purportedly more "intelligent" such as chimpanzees, the journal said. For instance, dogs are even better than chimpanzees at interpreting gestural clues and seem to understand what a human means when he points somewhere. Chimpanzees cannot, Miklosi said, though he pointed out long exposure could change that. More controversially, Cysani said his team's research indicates dogs could empathize with the emotions of people who were sad or ill. He even goes so far as to compare canine bonding with human love, New Scientist said.

See here as well.