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This is an excerpt from the Nova program titled, " Dogs Decoded ". The full transcript is available at the web site below.
NARRATOR: So how does the intelligence of a dog compare in the animal kingdom? New research is discovering that, in certain ways, dogs may actually think more like us than any other animal, including our nearest relative, the chimpanzee.
JULIANE KAMINSKI: Of all the questions around the evolution of human cognition, of course people would focus in on chimps, quite naturally, and suddenly there were dogs doing something that not even chimps could do.
NARRATOR: Cognitive psychologist Juliane Kaminski compares chimps with dogs, in a series of revealing experiments. At Leipzig Zoo, Kaminski is testing chimps to see if they can understand human gestures, like pointing, to find a hidden treat.
As simple as it seems to us, even our nearest primate relatives fail the task miserably.
JULIANE KAMINSKI: She's not really focusing on me, and she's simply making her own choice. Most of the time, you can see that she makes a decision, long before I give my gesture. She doesn't even wait for my information.
It's such an uncooperative interaction, so it's like really I'm providing information for her to find food, which is just simply something which would never happen in a chimp group, really. I mean a chimp wouldn't go, like, "Oh, look, there's the banana." And then another chimp could go and get it.
NARRATOR: Since we're the only species that makes this gesture, it would be remarkable if any animal could understand it. But dog owners take it for granted that their dogs respond to pointing.
JULIANE KAMINSKI: Good boy!
NARRATOR: For Kaminski, it's proof of their extraordinary social intelligence.
JULIANE KAMINSKI: If you really look at that gesture, it's an informative gesture. So it's, in its essence, a very cooperative interaction, so, I'm really helping you to find something. And for dogs, following, pointing seems to be very natural, and it makes dogs extremely interesting.
NARRATOR: In fact, dogs are so tuned in to our social cues, they can even pick up on something as subtle as the direction of our gaze.
Humans have unique almond-shaped eyes with exposed white sclera visible on each side.