Can dogs tell when we're talking to them?Sophie Bushwick1/05/12 1:03pmFiled to: animal behaviorCommunicationbiologyZoologytweetFbScience931EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkDogs make great companions – they're affectionate, adorable, and excellent listeners. But do they really know when we're talking to them? A Hungarian study tracked dogs' eye movements in order to monitor their focus of attention, concluding that the animals pay more attention to humans after being addressed directly.AdvertisementEach one of 16 adult pet dogs watched a video where a human actor stood between two empty plastic flowerpots, greeted the viewer, and then turned to one of the pots. As the dogs watched, a video camera recorded the movements of their eyes to see if they would also look at the pot that the human was observing. A similar method has been used to test whether or not human babies who have not yet learned speech can still understand the intent to communicate. After all, current research suggests that dogs have a social intelligence similar to that of humans from half a year to two years old.Before the human in the video looked at one of the pots, she greeted the dog in one of two ways. In the "ostensive-communicative" condition, she used the classic standby when greeting something cute: a high-pitched voice, direct eye contact, and a cheery "Hi dog!" (Both children and animals are more likely to respond to a high-pitched voice, which explains why we can't stop ourselves from cooing and babbling baby talk at cute creatures.) Under the non-ostensive condition, the actor opened the video with the same words, but spoke in a low voice and avoided eye contact. While the first scenario carries a clear message of direct communication, the non-ostensive one implies that the human has no intention of sharing information with the viewer.