Like most dog owners, April Ruiz believes her beloved Ben is a canine Einstein.
"Ben has always been the type of dog who pays attention to us," she said. Not just for verbal commands, however. April believes he's intuitive. When Ben encounters new situations, he looks at her and April feels he looks to her for information.
To prove Ben can pick up on non-verbal cues, April took him to the Yale Canine Cognition Center run by psychologist Laurie Santos.
Dr. Santos says dogs have much more social intelligence than expected.
"Dogs are very good at picking upon on human social information, and they seem to be tracking the kinds of ways that humans are teaching them," she said.
In fact, a new study reveals that canines follow commands such as pointing or gazing so well, that dogs and human toddlers, "exhibited similar patterns of correlation in social cognitive skills."
When a treat is hidden underneath a container, the tester points to a certain one, Ben is able to follow his cue and get the treat.
Santos explains, "Dogs realize that pointing conveys important information and in doing so dogs are able to learn from the cues that we give them."
"We weren’t sure which way he would go and it was really surprising to me that he pays so much attention to what actions that were being used," April said.
Dr. Santos says it's not just pointing, either. "They seem to process information our emotions," adding, "like when we’re happy and sad, they seem to know something about our emotional expressions."
Dr. Santos also says that canines can be a great model for human learning, but most of all, "I think a better understanding as to how dogs learn and the kinds of way that they connect with humans can only help us to treat our dogs better."
And now that she knows just how socially savvy Ben really is, April says she's even more proud of her precious pooch.
Experts say you can even test your dog's social savvy on your own at home by hiding a treat and pointing to or looking at that treat's location to see if your dog follows.