For the science-minded among us, there’s a home scientific experiment that you might like to try. For it, you will need the following research materials:
4–6 little opaque cups with lids
1 piece of tasty dog food
1 baby about 1 year old
1 pet dog
1 domesticated wolf
(optional) 1 each bonobo, chimpanzee, gorilla and other great ape
Procedure: In a room where none of the animals are present put the piece of tasty dog food in one of the cups, cover it and line them up on a table. Admit one of the animals. Point to the cup containing the dog food. Observe the response of the animal.
In general, if the animal used in this trial is either the pet dog or the baby of about 1 year or more in age it will then attempt to open the cup. If successful in that effort, it will then eat the piece of dog food. If it is any other kind of animal, it will probably pay little or no attention to your signal but will sniff each of the cups, perhaps attempt to lick your face or simply wander around the room.
You will probably suppose from this behavior that the dog and the baby have inferred that you are calling attention to the one cup that contains a reward — the piece of dog food — for the subject animal and thus attempt to find out what that reward is, whereas none of the other animals will appear to draw that conclusion. At least, that is the conclusion reached by the team of ethologists led by Jozsef Topal at the Institute for Psychology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.
Interestingly, no other kind of living creature displays this ability to interpret a human signal except for the domestic dog and the human baby, which begins to be able to solve the problem of interpreting this nonverbal human signal around its first birthday. The wolf is the closest relative to the domestic dog, but even a wolf that has been raised since birth in the company of human beings, as well as any of the great apes, the closest species to human beings, fails miserably at this task.
It is suggested that this innate quality of dogs is what has made them particularly easy to domesticate.