A study developed by Christian Nawroth, Jemma Brett, and Alan McElligott suggested that goats have some characteristics communicating with humans during problem-solving tasks that are similar to those showed by dogs. The research was published in Biology Letters, the scientific journal of The Royal Society Publishing, last July 5.
The article, “Goats display audience-dependent human-directed gazing behaviour in a problem-solving task” studied the animal’s capacity to communicate, considering communication as an important part of domestication, animal cognition and animal behaviour.
Puppies are the reference
Certainly, humans have developed a long lasting relationship with dogs as company animals, and there is science behind that trend. The capacity of dogs to communicate with humans has been proved intentional and with meaning. Dogs are receptive to human communication and are able to gaze with ‘human eyes’ in order to establish a channel of messages. Domestication is a historical process that has been affected by those cognitive features.
Considering this fact, the way dogs communicate was the reference when other animal’s capacity to gaze and communicate through it was evaluated.
This research applied the scientific method in order to reveal the ability of a domestic but non-companion species to communicate with humans, allowing the researchers understand for the first time the human-directed behavior when the animal is presented with a problem-solving task, similar to those situations when dogs have a problem to solve (get a toy, receive a treat, avoid a bath, etc.) and the animal reaches human contact in order to solve it.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) July 6, 2016
Goats ask for help with their eyes
The experiment put goats in the following situation: a food reward was placed in a box that was used in previous training where goats opened it by themselves since the lid was not attached to the box.
This time, the lid was attached, and in the area where the goats were tested, one experimenter was positioned on the left or right side of the box. The experiment was executed putting the experimenter in two positions, facing the box or facing away from the box. The experimenters did not interact with the goat initially.
The animals showed behavior with some communication skills that so far was shown only in dogs and in horses, hominoids animals. The goats showed human-directed visual orienting behaviour when facing a problem, and locked eyes with the experimenter in order to transfer the message about the impossibility to open the box by themselves.
“This challenges the view that a specific kind of domestication, i.e. the selection for companionship, has led to the development of complex communication with humans in domestic animals,” is the main statement in the research’s conclusion.
Actually, three days later, on July 8, a story about how goats are providing comfort and friendship to a Californian boy with autism was published by ABC News.
Some data about the experiment
The study was carried out at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in the United Kingdom. 34 adult goats were tested, 17 females and 17 castrated males. These goats have experienced positive interactions with staff, volunteers and visitors at the sanctuary, and were already trained in how to open plastic recipients.
The study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the largest research funding organization in Europe who is linked with the German Federal Ministry of Education and by “The Someone, Not Something Project,” an initiative that aims to promote protectionism towards farm animals.
Source: Royal Society Publishing