TUCSON, Ariz. — For all the dog owners out there who claim having their precious pet is like having a child — turns out they’re spot on. That’s because new research from the University of Arizona reveals that dogs and toddlers have similar levels of social intelligence.
The study, published in the April 2017 edition of the journal Animal Behaviour, finds that dogs and two-year-olds display comparable levels of social intelligence — even more than that of human children to chimpanzees, our species’ closest relatives.
Researchers assessed the social cognition skills of 552 dogs and 105 two-year olds using game-based tests and concluded they outperformed chimps on activities centered around cooperative communication, such as the ability to follow a pointing finger or human gaze.
“What we found is that there’s this pattern, where dogs who are good at one of these social things tend to be good at lots of the related social things, and that’s the same thing you find in kids, but you don’t find it in chimpanzees,” says Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at AU, in a university release.
One theory that explains the similarities between dogs and human children is the symbiotic relationships between the two species when wolves transitioned into dogs over the many thousands of years. The authors point to “survival of the friendliest,” in which those with “more cooperative social behavior” benefit.
“Our working hypothesis is that dogs and humans probably evolved some of these skills as a result of similar evolutionary processes, so probably some things that happened in human evolution were very similar to processes that happened in dog domestication,” explains MacLean. “So, potentially, by studying dogs and domestication we can learn something about human evolution.”
MacLean adds that this research has the potential to help scientists better understand human disabilities which affect social skills, such as autism.