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Dogs versus Chimps

by Ron Kurtus

An important aspect of communication is the interpretation of the signals received. It seems that dogs can interpret signals or communication cues from humans much better than do chimpanzees.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Type of signals

Humans try to communicate with animals with verbal messages, gestures and body language.

In the case of comparing the ability of dogs and chimps to interpret such messages, it was found that dogs are able to glean information from subtle hand gestures and even a human glance. On the other hand, chimps remained clueless in the same situation.


Proof that dogs can interpret human signals better than chimps was established in a series of experiments.

One experiment studied the animal's ability to read hints from a person as to which box had the food. Dogs and chimps were presented with two boxes. One was empty and the other contained a treat. The boxes were such that they prevented the animal from being able to smell the food inside.

Hints were given both animals, including pointing at the food box, tapping it, or glancing at the box. Dogs almost always interpreted the signals correctly and picked the correct box. Chimps performed no better than by chance.


One reason that dogs seem to be able to communicate better with humans may be from thousand of years of selective breeding. Dogs that were better at reading human signals were preferred as companions and workers than those that were not able to pick up cues.

Comparing dogs and wolves

Another test compared dogs raised by humans, dogs raised in a kennel and wolves. There was no difference in where the dog was raised concerning its ability to interpret human cues. Wolves, on the other hand, were unable to interpret the cues.

Bred to understand

This indicates that dogs may have been selected or bred on the basis of their ability to understand their masters.


Dogs seems to be able to interpret signals or communication cues from humans much better than chimpanzees. The reason may come from thousands of years of selective breeding due to living with humans.

Dogs are our best friends

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Dogs Understand Us Better Than Chimps Do -

Dogs Succeed While Chimps Fail at Following Finger Pointing - Science Daily (2012)

Chimp Communication - Jane Goodal Institute

Animal Language - Wikipedia

Communication Resources


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Top-rated books on Dog Communication

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