Goats as good as dogs at following directions from humans

  • Thursday, May 21, 2020

Research led by Dr. Alan McElligott finds that goats can understand human cues, including pointing, to gather information about their environment.

Image - Goats as good as dogs at following directions from humans

New Roehampton-led research conducted at the Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent provides the first evidence that animals' ability to perceive human-given cues is not limited to dogs and horses - who have a long history of domestication as companions. 

The researchers involved in the study hid food in one of two buckets. They then pointed at the location of the food and goats that succeeded in interpreting this gesture were transferred to the actual test.

In the tests that followed, goats were confronted with a condition that diļ¬€ered in appearance but were at a similar distance to the food. They were also presented with a condition that looked similar to the initial pre-test but was administered from an increased distance to the food.

Goats succeeded in locating the correct location when the pointing gestures were presented in proximity to the food compared to when the experimenter was further away from the rewarded location. This indicated that goats can generalise their use of the human pointing gesture but might rely on local enhancement rather than referential information.

Lead author Dr. Alan McElligott from the University of Roehampton, UK said: "From our earlier research, we already know that goats are smarter than their reputation suggests, but these results show how they can perceive cues and interact with humans even though they were not domesticated as pets or working animals.”

“This study has important implications for how we interact with farm animals and other species, because the abilities of animals to perceive human cues might be widespread and not just limited to traditional companion animals”.

The study was supported by grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, which aims to raise the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behaviour.

The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. You can read the paper here

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