Going to the Dogs

There are about 70 million dogs living in human homes in the US – 10 million more dogs than children under the age of 15 – and the pattern in other Western nations is similar. Dogs have achieved such an intimate position in our lives – roughly 40% of house dogs are allowed to sleep on their owners’ beds – because they are remarkably sensitive to human behavior and ways of thinking.

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – There are about 70 million dogs living in human homes in the United States. That’s 10 million more dogs than children under the age of 15. The pattern in other Western nations is similar. Roughly 40% of house dogs are allowed to sleep on their owners’ beds.

How did dogs achieve such an intimate position in our lives? One theory is that, in the thousands of years that dogs have lived with humans, they have become attuned to human ways of thinking. Certainly dogs have a remarkable sensitivity to human behavior.

Dogs are able to follow human pointing gestures to find hidden food, and they can indicate successfully to their owners by their own pointing actions where a hidden toy is located. Under certain circumstances, dogs understand that a human who cannot see them (because, for example, she is blindfolded) is less likely to respond to begging with a tasty treat than a person whose vision is not obscured. Dogs are also more likely to obey a command to leave something desirable alone if their master stays in the room than if he steps out.

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