One researcher explains that the findings show dogs' intelligence and adaptability.

By Jennifer Aldrich
January 21, 2020
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When you are adopting a senior pet, or any age dog that isn't a puppy, you might be concerned that your new four-legged friend could be challenging to train. However, contrary to popular belief, you might actually be able to teach an old dog new tricks. New research reveals dogs understand commands far better than previously thought, which is exciting news for owners.

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research wanted to find out if dogs without training could understand signals from a human they had never met before. So, they studied 160 strays in three cities in West Bengal, India. Each person would find a dog, place two covered bowls in front of the stray, and point at one of them. They recorded whether the dog approached the indicated bowl as well as its emotional condition during the experiment.

Credit: Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images

The study, published in Frontiers of Psychology, revealed the results. Nearly half of the dogs did not go to either of the bowls. However, the study indicates those animals were anxious and might have had poor interactions with humans in the past. About 80% of dogs of the dogs that did go toward either bowl went to the correct one. The researchers also reported that the dogs that went toward the bowls were much more good-natured.

"We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing," Dr. Anindita Bhadra, one of the researches, says in a news release. "This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability."

The researchers did note that each stray's personality was a major factor as to whether the dogs obeyed the commands, which means more studies are required to learn more about how dogs' temperament is related to their ability to follow orders. "We need to understand that dogs are intelligent animals that can co-exist with us," Bhadra says.

So if your pooch, new or old, is struggling with basic commands, take a step back and evaluate their demeanor. They might just need to warm up to you first. As Bhadra says, "A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict."

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