Something to point with?
Unlike most animals both humans and elephants have something to point with.
Next time you're trying to convey an idea to an elephant, it may well help to simply point to things, according to a new study. This won't always work with other species - including our close relatives the great apes - but the brainy pachyderm will, erm, get the point straight away. "By showing that African elephants …
"Point at something and a dog looks at your finger, not the object."
The trick is in the movement of your hand. If you move your hand in the direction of the object you are pointing to, the dog will probably get the message. I think the dog interprets the movement as if something was being thrown, and searches for objects along the trajectory.
"Dogs don't understand pointing. Point at something and a dog looks at your finger, not the object."
Maybe YOUR dog Jeeves but my black lab understands perfectly. I can point behind him and he will turn around, I can point to either side and he will look that way (not at my finger).
"dogs look at your finger" --- this is only true of dogs that are thick or untrained. Ever met an assistance dog, a police dog or a military dog?
Even our dog understands pointing, "get that over there". etc. She understands that "hide" means go out of the room till I say "seek" and she understands "warmer" and "colder" when she's searching. Her expertise is food words -- she knows about 20 including "kitchen" and she knows that the tune "tasty, tasty, very very tasty" [Cockney Waiters] means that she's going to get some bran flakes.
My parents dog understood "seek [noun]" for about 30 items, including 5 people. he understood how to play cricket (sit at leg off, ignore ball when thrown by bowler, fetch - or try to catch -- ball if hit by batsman and return it to bowler). He understood "not that one, get the other one" whether it was remote controls or shoes. He understood that if you pointed at him and said "bang" he should roll over, groan and lie still.
I can't be arsed to train my dog to do anything, but he's figure out pointing on his own. It may be a learned behavior from being around me, but likewise, I'm guessing these elephants aren't straight from the wilderness, and have been around humans for some length of time.
Also, when he wants to go out, he looks at me, then quickly points towards the door in what I can only described as a "get your ass over here and let me out" motion. Definitely not something I trained him to do.
Dogs are also able of pointing. When some object fell inadvertently from our pockets, our Irish setter would point at it, and nobody had taught him that trick. He also used to turn on the TV whenever it pleased him, and sometimes the lights in the room.
And sorry for stating the obvious, but dogs can point with one of their forelimbs.
Pointer dogs are natural pointers (well, natural to the extent they have been genetically selected for the task).
That is why you choose different breeds for different hunting purposes.
As an example, a beagle is good at tracking and flushing, but tend to be very excitable so it is hopeless for pointing or getting it to sit still until commanded (so they are crap retrievers). Yes, you probably could train one to point or retrieve but that would be an uphill battle relative to other breeds.
The same applies to sheep dogs. Different dogs have different skills. Talk to shepherds and you will hear terminology like "heading dog", "eye dog", "huntaway" etc.
This was in an article in New Scientist recently. Good to see the web can keep up with a paper magazine.
There are very few species that understand pointing. Not sure it's a particularly good measure for "intelligence". I think self recognition of a mirror image is rather better - dogs can, cats can't (try it - hilarious)
My cat now understands "the point". She is now very old, but over the years have taught
her to not look at the finger, but to where we are pointing, eg to a treat or toy etc. She still doesn't get it right all the time but her response indicates that she indeed is reacting to a pointing finger. Sometimes in a session she will focus on the finger then it is almost like
you can see the thought processes warming up as she then turns around and goes to the object. I have also notes some bird species such as magpies are also capable of "getting the point", but it varies with the individual
I guess trying this with a wild elephant wouldn't be wise, however it would be a better test of the hypothesis, as clearly an elephant that is used to being around humans would have grasped the concept long ago.
I actually cannot think of any other way of manoeuvring several ton of beast without waving and pointing in the general direction of where I want them to go, with a hope they'll eventually work out I'm not a Brit trying to attract the attention of a passing French waiter to the fact my wine glass is empty.
I think they need to rethink their methodology and review their footage. Her constant head turning towards the bucket is both a bigger visual cue than a static arm and also it is well documented that pack animals will look in the direction another pack member is 'concentrating' on. call themselves scientists? Pah!!!
Interesting point about moving gaze. Horses are particularly prone to looking at things that their riders or handlers look at. I've also once seen it the other way round: we had a pony that never spooked at anything - unless you were carrying a sandwich or sausage roll. She'd stand or walk quietly for an unpredictable period, and then suddenly snap her head to one side - if you followed her gaze she'd use that split second to grab your lunch.
Maybe to an elephant the arm is like a trunk which is normally on the front of the animal. So from the elephant's perspective it may seem as if she is paying attention to that bucket because the large scale body language inicates she is facing it. The fact that she is standing facing forward may not be especially relevant.
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