New research confirms what goat lovers already know; goats are smart and have the capacity for complex communication with people.
I always knew there was something special about goats. I mean, beyond their intelligence and charming curiosity and propensity to prance about and balance on precarious towers and climb trees. I figured it was just a little narcissistic attachment due to my Capricorn star-sign status, but as it turns out, there really is more to goats than meets the eye. And more than just the latest Internet craze or ruminant darlings of the hipster set.
According to researchers from Queen Mary University of London, goats have the capacity to communicate with people like other domesticated animals such as dogs and horses.
Working with goats from Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent, United Kingdom, the scientists found, for one thing, that goats respond to people by gazing pleadingly at them when faced with a problem they cannot solve alone; and they alter their responses depending on how the behavior of the human. (Read: They have puppy dog eyes!) This is a trait found in dogs and horses – animals with long histories of companionship and working closely with people – but not wolves. (Cats fail to perform well in this type of experiment, notes the study, and barely look at humans, "potentially owing to their rather solitary lifestyle.")
Dr. Christian Nawroth, first author of the study, says, "Goats gaze at humans in the same way as dogs do when asking for a treat that is out of reach, for example. Our results provide strong evidence for complex communication directed at humans in a species that was domesticated primarily for agricultural production, and show similarities with animals bred to become pets or working animals, such as dogs and horses."
The conclusions of the research suggest a lot about the impact that domesticating animals has upon human-animal communication. It’s believed that dogs communicate so well with people because of changes to the brain from becoming a companion animal through domestication. But now it seems that domestication for reasons beyond companionship and work adds to the capacity for communication as well.
"Goats were the first livestock species to be domesticated, about 10,000 years ago," says lead author Dr. Alan McElligott. "From our earlier research, we already know that goats are smarter than their reputation suggests, but these results show how they can communicate and interact with their human handlers even though they were not domesticated as pets or working animals."
(Previous research at the college concluded that goats are far cleverer than previously thought and can learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and even remember how to perform them at least 10 months later.)
And in a shout-out to goats everywhere, the researchers hope the study will lead to broader and better understanding of how smart livestock can be in their ability to solve problems and interact with people … and thus an improvement in animal welfare in general.
Says McElligott, “If we can show that they are more intelligent, then hopefully we can bring in better guidelines for their care.”
The research was published in the journal Biology Letters.