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What Good Puppies!

Dogs have been bred to understand people from a young age, with about 40 percent of this ability having a genetic origin, New Scientist writes.

It adds that in a new study, researchers led by the University of Arizona's Evan MacLean administered a test of social skills to 375 Labrador and Golden Retriever puppies that were to be trained to become service dogs. As the researchers note in a new Current Biology paper, the eight-week-old puppies already knew human gestures, such as pointing, better than chance. As the dogs were pedigreed, the researchers could further estimate that genetic factors accounted for 43 percent of the variation in the dogs' understanding of pointing and for 40 percent of the variation in their attention to human faces when researchers spoke "baby talk" directed at the puppies, New Scientist adds.

"People have been interested in dogs' abilities to do these kinds of things for a long time, but there's always been debate about to what extent is this really in the biology of dogs, versus something they learn by palling around with humans," MacLean tells Ars Technica. "We found that there's definitely a strong genetic component, and they're definitely doing it from the get-go."

First author Emily Bray, a postdoc at Arizona, adds at CNN that there's more work to be done to trace which traits go with which genes. "There's lots of work to be done with puppies," she tells it. "It's a tough job, but someone has to do it."