Point at an object, and, chances are, your dog will look at it. This seemingly simple ability–critical to our relationship with our canine companions–eludes most animals, including our closest relatives, chimpanzees. But it’s been hard to tell whether this skill is genetically hard-wired, or if dogs simply pick it up by hanging around us.
Scientists have now found a way to address the mystery–and it’s adorable. A team lead by Evan MacLean at the University of Arizona has borrowed nearly 400 Labrador and golden retriever puppies to show that the ability to understand finger pointing is indeed genetic. Working with the pups wasn’t easy, as MacLean told me: “It’s a balance between extraordinarily cute and rewarding moments, and frustration that leaves you at the brink of insanity. There is nothing that will not be chewed or peed on, including all of your research equipment, your clothes, and your body.”
But the researchers powered through, and the pups provided important answers. The team is now doing more sophisticated genetic analysis to determine exactly which genes may be responsible. In the meantime, be sure to check out the story for some adorable puppy pics, and a video as well.