The extent to which a domestic animal looks to the face of a human for clues in problem-solving is said to be a measure of their bond with humans. If this is correct, a study concludes that goats can have a closer bond with humans than cats and dogs have a closer bond with humans than cats and goats.
Goats are maligned by many for their proclivity for chewing clothes on a washing line or head-butting but scientists have demonstrated that goats can form relationships with humans in the same way as dogs and cats but even closer than cats.
However, people should think very carefully before choosing a goat as a pet. They are sociable but they need a field so they’re not suitable for people living in cities and towns!
Dogs often look at human faces for guidance. Horses also do this but less than dogs. Cats almost never, it is said, look at human faces for guidance.
The RSPCA provides advice for people considering keeping goats. They describe them as “good companion animals”. They do not, though, get along well with fences or neighbours!
The scientists conducting the test (a “gaze behavior task”) wanted to see whether pet owners were deluding themselves into believing that they had a close bond with their domestic animal companion. They recruited goats from a local sanctuary and gave them food in a clear plastic box. They could retrieve the food if the box was tipped over. Goats could not work out how to do this.
The scientists repeated the task but with the box glued down. The goats realised something was wrong.
“They would nudge it a little with their mouths, or their hoofs, and then they would approach the handler,” said Alan McElligott from Queen Mary, University of London.
It was found that goats were much more likely to gaze at their handler if they could see his or her face. In the test, the handler only presented his face towards the goat half of the time.
The study is reported in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters.
This study begs the question whether experienced cat owners have noticed their cat gazing entreatingly into their eyes when seeking help in problem-solving. I see it regularly. Perhaps it is commonplace and the scientists are incorrect in their assessment of the domestic cat. Whenever my cat wants to go through a closed door he looks at me to ask for help. Does this count? I think it does. When he wants food he comes to me and looks at me. These are just two examples. I am sure I could think of more.