BUDAPEST, Hungary — It’s no secret that dogs are exceptionally sociable animals. Pet owners know their furry friends love to interact and “talk” with people and look to humans when they need help. So are these social qualities a unique trait or do other domesticated animals communicate with people the same way? Researchers in Budapest say that while both pigs and dogs interact with humans the same way in normal situations, pigs are stubbornly independent creatures and less likely to look at their owners to solve a problem.
For the past three years, a team at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary has compared human interactions between domestic miniature pigs and dogs.
“We launched the Family Pig Project in 2017 at the Department of Ethology, Budapest,” lead researcher Attila Andics says in a university release. “The animals are raised in a similar environment as family dogs, providing the basis for unique comparative investigations between the two species.”
Why test miniature pigs instead of cats you may ask? The team says, as many cat owners may already know, felines are not that social.
“Similarly socialized wolves and cats communicate less with humans than dogs in the same problem-solving context, but maybe it is because wolves are not domesticated, and cats are not a social species,” study author Paula Pérez explains. “So we designed a study to compare dogs’ behaviour with that of another domestic and social species, the pig.”
Pet pigs don’t like asking for help
In the study, researchers test how dogs and pigs solve a puzzle. The puzzles, known as the “unsolvable task paradigm,” brings each animal into a room with a box. Sometimes the box is empty and sometimes the box has food in it. When the box is empty, pigs and dogs act similarly and both initiate interactions with humans. In comparison, the pets behave differently when food is placed in the box and each faces the challenge of getting their snack.
In one case, researchers place food in an easy-to-open box. For the other experiment, they place the treats in a box that is securely shut. The study finds when the task is solvable (when animals open the box), pigs retrieve their food faster than dogs. When a task is unsolvable and animals can’t open the box, dogs look to humans for help. Pigs on the other hand, persist in trying to solve the task without our help.
“The similarities that we found between the two species point to their similar capacities for engaging in communicative interactions with humans,” says Pérez. “However, species-specific predispositions might be responsible for the found differences. Dogs are naturally more dependent on and cooperative with humans. This explains their unique success in interacting with us.”
The study is published in the journal Animal Cognition.