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Canine communication troubles? Find out what’s being lost in translation with this simple test from expert Brian Hare.



1. Tell your dog to sit and stay.

2. Stand about three feet away, and put a treat down on either side of you.

3. Point to the treat on your left.

4. Record which treat your dog eats. If your dog eats the treat you pointed at, give him one point.

5. Repeat 10 times, alternating which side you point to.



7-10 points “You probably don’t notice when your dog responds to your pointing gestures in all sorts of situations,” says Hare. “But this skill is remarkable. Your dog’s skills are similar to those of a human infant. At around nine months, babies start to build core communication skills: They begin paying attention to what people are trying to communicate when they point. Similarly, your dog relies on your gestures to solve problems he probably couldn’t solve alone.” 

4-6 points “Dogs are one of the only animals that rely on human gestures, but even among dogs there is variation. Some dogs are more like infants and rely heavily on physical signals, while others are more like chimpanzees and try to solve problems on their own. Your dog uses a mixed strategy. Because he could see food in both places, he didn’t need your help, but occasionally chose to follow your gestures anyway.” 

1-3 points “To a human, this test seems simple. However, the skills it requires are quite specialized. Your dog is more like a chimpanzee than a human. When chimps perform a similar test to this one, they tend to use self-reliant strategies rather than relying on human gestures. This does not mean your dog is not communicative. He may just be more responsive to other signals, like your voice.”


The Takeaway

“Your dog’s score is not so much a gauge of his intelligence but rather a way for you to learn how to better communicate with him. If he relies heavily on hand signals, you’ll know that this is a great way to interact with him. If he uses a more self-reliant strategy, it might explain why he doesn’t pay attention to you when you point. Either way, he can still score high in his aptitude for cuddling.”


Brian Hare, Ph.D., is the co-author of The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think.



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