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Mind-reading Super Mutts!

Have you ever felt like your dog knows exactly what you’re thinking?

Well, hold on a second – what if we told you they might actually have a clue? Mind blowing! But it’s true. Studies have shown that dogs have the ability to understand gestures that we thought to be unique to human communication.


Can your dog read your mind?

If you have a canine companion or have spent a lot of time with them, you probably already know that they are able to follow a pointing gesture (this is amazing, by the way, and very very rare in the animal kingdom!). But the truly amazing thing is that this ability has been seen in puppies as young as 6-weeks-old! That means they don’t need intensive socialisation before they are able to recognise pointing.

A 2001 study by Soproni et al. compared cognitive abilities of human infants, dogs, and chimpanzees. The ability to recognise pointing was not found in chimpanzees – granted, dogs spend much more time around humans than chimpanzees do, which probably helps, but it is still a very impressive feat. In this research, the dogs’ performance was comparable to that of a 1-and-a-half-year-old child. Very cool!

Not only this, but observations of puppies showed that they learned from hand signals faster than vocal cues. They were also to pick up on much more subtle cues, for example, watching where the handler’s body leaned to know which side to be on. So smart!

How did this skill develop?

The answer to this isn’t known for sure. Some scientists believe that these cognitive abilities are due to coevolution. The individuals that were more readily able to adapt to living around people with higher tolerance of humans and less fear could have promoted a faster rate of early learning and has led to dogs being sensitive to certain social cues. Bit of a mouthful but makes sense!

These recognition skills were seen to improve with time throughout varies studies, which indicates that learning is taking place. Learning, however, can go both ways – dogs can learn to reliably respond to pointing if their efforts are reinforced, and the behaviour is made ‘worthwhile’. Likewise, they can learn to disregard pointing completely if they are never rewarded for it and the behaviour is ‘not worth it’.

How can we use this skill?

We can use this information to influence the way we train our promising pooches. Knowing that they use our body movements for clues as to what we want from them, we can use body language to give them a higher chance of success. For example, next time you are walking your dog, try turning your body and leaning to one side and see if they come around to be on that side. They might surprise you!


The dogs we share our homes with are incredibly smart and are truly bred to be a brilliant companion! We hope you have come away with a new sense of just how amazing our pets can be.

Thank you for reading and remember, always keep learning!

-- Charlie and Tiana

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