Campus & Community

The accidental ‘best friend’

1 min read

Domesticated foxes spontaneously read human gestures

Harvard researchers studying Siberian foxes have uncovered evidence that the ability to interpret human expressions and gestures that helped transform the wild wolf into humankind’s cooperative “best friend” may have occurred by accident. The research casts doubt onto a previous theory that domestic dogs’ ability to interpret human communication results from generations of selection for that specific trait by ancient breeders. Rather, the research indicates that the “social intelligence” shown by dogs may have been an unintended byproduct of wolves becoming domesticated and losing their fear and aggression toward humans. Previous research with both wild wolves and nonhuman primates such as chimpanzees shows the dog is superior at being able to interpret human gestures such as pointing to hidden food sources. But the Siberian research shows that foxes bred only for tameness are the equal of the domestic dog in the task.