Goats might be more like dogs than we thought.
A new study, published in Biology Letters, suggests that goats, like dogs, have the capacity to communicate their intentions or desires to people.
Scientists gave the animals a simple task: take the lid off a box to receive a food reward while a human sat nearby. Over time, the researchers made it increasingly difficult to open the box, until the task became “impossible.”
At that point the goats, when they were faced with this unsolvable problem, looked repeatedly between the reward and the human, and even stared at the human “imploringly” to try to indicate that they needed help to get to the treat.
This behaviour had been previously noted in dogs — animals with which we are known to feel a special bond — but this was new when it came to goats.
“Goats gaze at humans in the same way as dogs do when asking for a treat that is out of reach,” said Dr. Christian Nawroth, study author, in a press release. “Our results provide strong evidence for complex communication directed at humans in a species that was domesticated primarily for agricultural production, and show similarities with animals bred to become pets or working animals, such as dogs and horses.”
There are about a billion goats worldwide, reports The Telegraph, and these animals are believed to be the first livestock species to be domesticated, roughly 10,000 years ago. Unlike dogs though, goats were domesticated for their meat and milk, not to provide a social need (as dogs were to help us hunt).
Perhaps, the reason for this cross-species sociability has something to do with goats’ natural desire to explore, Dr. Jenna Kiddie, senior lecturer in animal behaviour and welfare at Anglia Ruskin University, told The Guardian. Sheep, in comparison, are more skittish and tend to cluster in packs, so they don’t have much need to gaze up at us.
The study authors hope that their research will lead to a better understanding of just how skilled livestock are in their ability to solve problems and interact with humans based on their cognitive abilities.
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