Man's new best friend: Goats?

No? Me neither! But if you did, you might notice a familiar flicker. According to a new study published in the journal Biology Letters, these bleating beasts have about the same capacity to communicate with humans as puppies do. Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London learned this by training goats to retrieve a treat from a box. Then they switched the box for one the goat couldn’t open. After a futile attempt or two, the goats would turn their gaze to a nearby human, making eye contact as if to ask for help. That behavior is called “directed gazing,” and prior to this study, scientists had only observed it in domesticated horses and dogs—creatures humans think of as pets, not food.

This surprising news means the domestication of animals for livestock has had a much bigger impact on their psychology than researchers previously thought. About 10,000 years ago, goats were the first livestock species to be domesticated, according to Alan McElligott, a researcher on the study. Scientists have long believed that through domestication, the brains of dogs developed to absorb information from men and women; as humans bred friendlier, more obedient dogs, the trait became universal.

But scientists never knew the same could be true of farm animals—until now.