Scientists have discovered that goats, too, can make great pets and may even rival dogs for the title of “man’s best friend.”
A recent study by Queen Mary University of London researchers revealed that the goat, mainly domesticated for agricultural purposes, also possesses the ability to form an emotional bond with its owner, according to the Telegraph.
In an experiment documented in Biological Letters, the goats were observed to gaze at their owners emotionally when they are seeking help or assistance. Such a trait, which is not usually seen in other animals who never co-existed with humans, is also commonly found in dogs.
To prove that goats are smarter than the common perception, the research team conducted tests similarly used to gauge intelligence in apes. In a series of tests, the goats displayed an ability to cleverly figure out how to break into a sealed box by using levers.
In the first trial, the goats were trained to remove a lid from a box by giving them rewards. In the last test, the box was made impossible to open and the goat’s reaction revealed a striking resemblance to how dogs usually react. The goats turned to their owners in a pleading gaze, asking for help in getting to the treat.
The goats were also observed to gaze for longer when the person looked back and returned the gaze, compared to when the person looked the other way.
More impressively, the test subjects even retained the skill and were able to perform the task, without repeating prompts, four years later.
“Goats gaze at humans in the same way as dogs do when asking for a treat that is out of reach,” said study co-author Dr Christian Nawroth.
“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.”
It is interesting to note that goats were the first animal species domesticated by humans, approximately 10,000 years ago. Previously considered to have a lower intelligence and believed to be of same intellect as sheep, goats are usually a subject of jokes or insults to insinuate stupidity. The phrase “as stupid as a goat” is even used as an insult in some countries.
Co-author Dr Alan McElligott from Queen Mary’s Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology thinks the animal’s association with sheep’s intelligence level is baseless.
“You can’t work with a sheep on its own,” he said, “People think they are the same, but they are very different animals. Anyone who has ever worked with both animals can tell you that.
“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,” he said. “We know that in some areas goats are as intelligent as dogs, but there has been a lot more work done on dog behavior and we are really just scratching the surface with goats.”
The research, conducted at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent, aims to bring about change on how the animal is treated worldwide.
“If we can show that they are more intelligent, then hopefully we can bring in better guidelines for their care,” Dr McElligott said.