Goats’ gazes may be pleas for help

If you’ve ever been around goats—as a kid in the local 4-H Club or via clients who own pet goats as companion animals—did it ever seem like they were asking for help? According to a new study, that may be exactly what they are doing.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences in the United Kingdom found that goats respond to people by gazing at them when facing a problem they cannot solve alone. Additionally, their responses change depending on the person’s behavior.  

The study was published in Biology Letters on July 5.

To investigate, the team trained goats to remove a lid from a box to receive a reward. In the final test, they made the reward inaccessible and recorded their reaction towards the experimenters, who were either facing the goats or had their backs to them.

Goats redirected their gaze frequently between the inaccessible reward and human experimenters. They also gazed toward a forward facing person earlier, more often and for longer compared to when the person was facing away.

“Goats gaze at humans in the same way as dogs do when asking for a treat that is out of reach, for example,” said first author Christian Nawroth, PhD.

“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.”

Photo credit: © iStock/Linda Yolanda

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