This book gives a comprehensive review of the 'Family Dog Project - ELTE Dept. of Ethology' summarizing the proceedings of the first research group dedicated to investigate the evolutionary and ethological foundations of dog-human relationship.
The basic hypothesis of our research project was that dogs have evolved to survive in the anthropogenic environment, and our investigations aim at revealing the contribution of humans and dogs to this long standing partnership co-habitation. Thus we are not interested solely in the mental abilities of dogs but in all aspects human and dog behaviour that have strengthened this bond, and may even expand it further.
Some argue that dogs' complex social skills have been selected for during their co-habitation with humans. Indeed, dogs may have to rely on sophisticated social abilities in order to get along in their relationships. However, instead of reporting a list of anecdotes researchers need to find well controlled methods to reveal the cognitive mechanisms that may operate in the dogs' mind. We have not yet convincing evidence to say that dogs are able to read our minds but nevertheless they seem to be very skilful readers of our behaviour.
For example, many independent studies have established that dogs comprehend the human pointing gesture and dogs are able to rely on more subtle human visual cues like head turning, nodding or bowing. There are also some indications that dogs have a strong propensity to initialize communicative interactions with humans by using visual and sometimes also acoustic signals functionally similar to the ones used by humans. Several studies have demonstrated that also dogs "point" to humans, e.g. when dogs when facing an unsolvable situation use attention-getting behaviour. For example, after looking at the owner, dogs display gaze alternation between the location of the target object and the owner.
Dogs are also excellent subjects for examining both interspecific and within-species social learning. As dogs form well-working social units with humans, it is easy to use human demonstrators in particular tasks, where dogs should learn by observation from the humans' actions.
Among others, one of the most striking features of the social life of dogs is that they seem to prefer joining human groups. The dog-human relationship has a long evolutionary history and this could be based both on dogs' evolutionary heritage, being the descendants of wolves, and on changes which took place during their adaptation to living with humans. However, the notion that the dog is just a tamed version of the wolf and the affiliative behaviour of dogs towards human is simply the manifestation of a wolf-like behaviour in an interspecific context is not really supported by current knowledge. Recent evidence suggests that domestication led to significant changes in the social-affiliative behaviour system of dogs and these changes served as the basis of the evolutionary development of dog-human relationship.