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Dogs Read Human Expressions As Well As Human Infants, Study Shows

Posted: 01/05/12 02:38 PM ET

A new study shows how man's best friend might be even more human-like than we thought.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests that dogs are able to read our "communicative intent" -- that is, our intention to interact with them -- via our faces, an ability that very young humans possess.

"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," study researcher Jozsef Topal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. "The utilization of ostensive cues is one of these features: dogs, as well as human infants, are sensitive to cues that signal communicative intent."

To test this theory, Topal and his colleagues tracked the eye movements of dogs as they watched video recordings of humans turning toward plastic pots.

When the person said "Hi dog!" in a high-pitched voice and looked straight at the dog, and then turned toward the pot, the dogs were more likely to look at the pot, compared with if the person just said "hi dog" in a low-pitched voice and avoided eye contact.

"Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants," Topal said in the statement.

However, Deleta Jones, a dog trainer from California, told MSNBC that she doesn't think the finding means dogs have evolved in any certain way to interact with humans -- rather, that's just how they interact with anyone, whether it be dogs or humans.

"When they learn verbal commands, they are learning a foreign language," Jones told MSNBC. "Dogs normally speak through body language and facial expression. It's more natural to them."

Aside from reading eye contact cues, click through the slideshow for other crazy human-like things pets do:

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  • They Use The Toilet

    No need for a litter box, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pistolsdrawn/2379833782/" target="_hplink">some kitties</a> are just too civilized for that (and pups too). On the<a href="http://www.karawynn.net/mishacat/toilet.html" target="_hplink"> toilet they go</a>, hopefully they know to leave the seat down when they're done.

  • They Enjoy A Bubble Bath

    They might not make <a href="http://www.catsplay.com/thedailycat/2004-07-12/bringing_grooming/bath/bath.html" target="_hplink">their own bath</a>, but they sure know how to get down <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/aprylscanvas/3038737320/" target="_hplink">with the bubbles</a>.

  • They Let Themselves In

    You might think you need a special doggie door in order for pets to access the outside world, but some pets know how to <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dennymont/3252648266/" target="_hplink">come and go</a> as they please, using any old door there is.

  • Pets Go Boating

    Yep, some <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bmosbacker/3376774887/" target="_hplink">dogs were born</a> with sea legs. And while they love to soak in the sea air and look out at the vast blue water, they still know well enough to wear their life vest.

  • Pets Care About Fashion

    Pets like to strut their stuff on the street -- just like us. We've all seen the huge variety of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tokyofashion/4381591952/" target="_hplink">pet clothes and accessories</a>, from sunglasses and booties to raingear and swarovski crystal jewelry -- even doggie perfume is on the market now.

  • They Get Plastic Surgery

    While it might seem hard to believe, some pets are<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/pets-plastic-surgery/story?id=14324694" target="_hplink"> going under the knife for plastic surgery</a>or other seemingly cosmetic procedures -- botox, braces, tummy tucks and even silicon "stand-ins" for neutered pups. It may

  • Pets Love To Play Sports, Just Like We Do

    Well, maybe not <em>just</em> like us. Their unorganized sports probably have a lot fewer rules, but the goal is the same -- <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmasin/5148987656/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">get the ball</a>!

  • They Wear Hilarious Hats

    Like a few of our favorite UK ladies, pets are classing it up these days with some <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/princesspearlscloset/5578326618/in/photostream" target="_hplink">cute and cooky hats</a> to spruce up any occasion.

  • Pets Cuddle With Each Other

    No one can deny the simple <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eveylennon/5809845482/" target="_hplink">joy of a cuddle</a>, and neither can our pets -- call it puppy love. While they love cozying up to their human friends, they also seek that closeness from one another by spooning, cuddling and sitting close.

  • They Fly In Pet-Only Planes

    We've all seen those frequent flier pets under the seat next to us. And there's even an <a href="http://petairways.com/" target="_hplink">airline that flies</a> just for pets -- no humans on board besides those working. Looks like this pup prefers <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ohadp/441564849/" target="_hplink">the window seat</a>.

  • They Wear Seat Belts In The Car

    We should all take note from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22812237@N08/5979752895/" target="_hplink">this pooch</a> and be sure to buckle up.

  • They Watch TV

    Sometimes cats can be <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiskymac/6105887932/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">couch potatoes, too</a>. While he may be amused with your regular prime-time schedule (Discovery Channel please!), some companies have started manufacturing <a href="http://catdvd.com/" target="_hplink">pet-friendly DVDs</a>.

  • They Practice Yoga

    A little <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/retrovintagecrafter/5615810768/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">downward dog</a> sure does this puppy good!

  • They Get Their Hair Done

    Just cause your <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/65626620@N08/5966880827/in/photostream" target="_hplink">poodle is a pooch</a> doesn't mean she won't enjoy a day at the salon. A new do and a bow are always welcome.

  • They Go Skate Boarding

    This pup likes the thrill of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/5623575225/" target="_hplink">riding the board</a> too. (Don't try this one at home!)

  • Pets Jump On Trampolines

    This dog <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/28590449@N07/2668568474/" target="_hplink">burns off excess energy</a> with a little time on the trampoline.

  • Pets Get Pushed In Strollers

    That's not a baby in that stroller, but a <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7873084@N02/5907229136/" target="_hplink">little dog</a> with tired legs.

  • They Talk Like Us

    Your dog may be happy to see you when you get home -- but can he great you with a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skE2dq3cm0A" target="_hplink">real "hello"</a> when you walk in the door?

  • They Grab A Beer From The Fridge

    This dog is recovering from a bad day <a href="http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=labrador+fetches+beer&aq=f" target="_hplink">by grabbing a beer</a> from the fridge.

  • They Dive Into Pools

    No doggy paddling for this one -- he prefers to jump off the diving board to <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/amagill/3906314682/" target="_hplink">splash into the pool</a>.

  • They Eat With A Fork

    Set an extra place on the table for your pet at dinner time; they just might surprise you with their <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypMl2RFTC9Y" target="_hplink">top-notch table manners</a>.

  • They Ride The Wave

    Dogs can be more than just <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/1472747805/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">good swimmers</a> -- some pups know how to ride that wave, too.

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Filed by Amanda L. Chan  |