Elephants Get the Point, Too

November 18, 2013

In Fox Talk, I describe experiments done on wolves and dogs and domestic foxes, to test their ability to understand human pointing gestures. Comparisons showed that dogs and foxes are better at using human body language, even without prior exposure or learning opportunities.

Domestication’s not the only factor at work though. A new study shows that elephants understand pointing, too, even though they’re not domesticated. ¬†Here are some links to news stories about the work:

Ella, a 4-month-old English Mastiff, helps me demonstrate the pointing experiment

Ella, a 4-month-old English Mastiff, helps me demonstrate the pointing experiment

The Telegraph

The Guardian

Nature World News

World Science

The researchers hypothesize that elephants have this skill because they, like people, live in complex societies where it’s advantageous to cooperate with group members. There’s likely more to it, though, as wolves and chimps also live in social groups, and both do poorly in pointing tests. This is what’s fun about science – every answer leads to more questions!

Do your pets understand pointing? Did they get it right the first time, or did they need practice and a chance to learn? 

foxtalkandfriendred1Looking for presents for the youngsters on your list? The Fox Talk ebook now comes with a furry friend! The stuffed fox is available in red or white, and the gift set is only available if you order direct from the publisher – click the photo for the link.

2 Comments on ‘Elephants Get the Point, Too’

  1. Interesting. My first dog understood pointing without any training. If I spilled something I’d call her and point (standing up, not even crouched down as in your photo), and she’d clean it up nicely. But my next dog never got the hang of it. I’d call her and point. She’d come bounding up, stand right over the spilled food, eagerly sniff my finger, and walk away disappointed.
    Never tried it with an elephant, though.

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    1. I’ve tried it with a few puppies of different breeds – some get it right away and others seem really confused by it. I’d love to see a study that compares working breeds to other types of dogs…

      Reply | 

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