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It’s official! Retrievers beat GSDs and Poodles in attention tests

Big brown dog gazes at its owner dog-wow
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A study of the gazes of dogs confirms what most of us already know: retrievers are one of the most sociable breeds, and the most understanding of human behaviour.

By Nick Whittle

Published on the 18/01/2020, 22:00, Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:34

The study carried out in 2010 by researchers from Buenos Aries University was ground-breaking. At the time, very few studies had been published of the attention span of various breeds of dog. Adriana Jakovcevic and her team intended their work to enlighten our understanding not just of our relationship with dogs but also with different breeds of dog.

The study

24 pet dogs (Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Poodles) were each observed in their interaction with an examiner.

In Ms Jakovcevic's first study, dogs were rewarded with a foody treat whenever they held the gaze of the examiner. In the second test, the dogs' gazes were observed in the absence of an immediate treat but with a bowl of liver in sight and out of reach.

Although there was no difference between breeds' gazes when food was readily on offer, Jakovcevic and her team noticed a marked difference when food was out of reach and not immediately forthcoming. The Retriever gazed for far longer than the GSD and Poodle before giving up the struggle. Its perseverance was notably more formidable!


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Jakovcevic opines various reasons for this difference. Of the results she wrote, “The presence of the human acts as a social reinforcer of a greater salience for the Retrievers.” In other words the Retriever's grit and determination to gaze for longer is due to the breed's famed intuitive connection with humans.

But of all dogs it can be said that their using gazing as a way to communicate is what has made them such a successful domestic pet. How many times has your dog stared at you in order to tell you something?

The conclusions of the study, Jakovcevic says, “Can provide information related to within-species cognitive differences and about which are the most suitable breeds to work near humans.” For the rest of us, it confirms what we know already: dogs don't have to be able to talk to get what they want!