Despite what they may lack in the elocution department, dogs do communicate their feelings to humans as well as read our cues, thanks to domestication, Julia Riedel and colleagues of the Max Planck Institute (M.P.I.) for Evolutionary Anthropology reported in March 2008 in Animal Behavior. Dogs follow people's pointing, body posture, the direction of their gaze, and touches for cues to find hidden food, notes Mariana Bentosela and colleagues at the University of Buenos Aires in the July 2008 Behavioural Processes. They also gaze at their trainer when they need more information to find their reward.
Some dogs learn to understand an impressive number of words, as well. A gifted border collie, Rico, mastered the names of more than 200 objects using a technique called fast-tracking that small children also employ, Juliane Kaminski, also of M.P.I. Evolutionary Anthropology and colleagues reported in 2004 in Science. The researchers introduced a novel item into Rico's mix of toys then asked him to retrieve it. He did so by associating the unfamiliar name with the unfamiliar object. He even remembered the name of the toy a month later.
"That's the kind of fast-tracking or exclusionary learning, which we used to think only human beings and the talking apes—the ones taught language—could use," Coren says. "For the psychologists it was, 'Wow, how did he learn that word?!'"