10 July 2016

RESEARCH - Is the Goat the New Dog?

(Dr. Christian Nawroth)
Researchers suggest the domesticated dog could be trumped by the capra aegagrus hircus (the domesticated goat) which is said to be brighter than its reputation might suggest and capable of creating deep emotional bonds with owners.
The findings done by Queen Mary University of London researchers, documented in the Biology Letters journal, show goats being impressive in finding solutions to treat-earning tasks and displaying that 'look of love,' dog owners know so well when they need help figuring something out.

For the Canis familiaris (the domestic dog) that gaze has long been considered to be a form of communication.

“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,” Dr. Christian Nawroth, one of the study’s authors told The Telegraph.

While the study looks into the bond-forging possibilities between a goat and its owner, it also takes a stab at stereotypes which suggest the quintessential farm animals are not so bright.

Researchers claim the animals studied at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent, England demonstrated the ability to learn how to break into a sealed box - for treats, of course.

In another experiment, goats were given a box impossible to open and what they did in those scenarios, researchers attest, speaks to their intelligence and bond with human handlers.

“Goats gaze at humans in the same way as dogs do when asking for a treat that is out of reach,” Nawroth, told The Telegraph.

Study co-author, Dr Alan McElligott, says the curious creatures are often misunderstood.

“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 says.

“We know that in some areas goats are as intelligent as dogs, but there has been a lot more work done on dog behaviour and we are really just scratching the surface with goats.”

While dogs have long been companions to humans, goats have been domesticated for some 10,000 years.

There are a billion goats worldwide.

More than a source of milk, meat and cheese – researchers hope to highlight the pet potential of the goat, but more importantly the goal of their work is to improve the plight of the animals.

“If we can show that they are more intelligent, then hopefully we can bring in better guidelines for their care,” McElligott says.

Got your goat?

First-time owners of goats as pets need to do their research according to various organizations familiar with the practice.

For starters, goats are known for being curious creatures with a penchant to roam which means they must be kept confined with good fencing and given shelter from the elements.

The friendly farm animals can be destructive and, just like dogs, need regular vet visits to stay healthy. Because they are social creatures and typically like the company of other goats, they may fare better in pairs.

As well, the ruminants are incessant chewers who can be annoyingly loud and like to head-butt.

Although Queen Mary researchers say goats may well rival dogs as pets, but people will be disappointed if they expect to see a pet goat be anything like canine companionship.

“They won't purr or roll over; they also won't climb on to you to ask for food or a pat. Goats, actually, are more of a rebellious type of animal. They are wanderers and prefer to explore different things,” according to Ted Allen's How to Raise Goats webpage.

“They may eat your notes, memos, or upholstery. Putting it on a lap for a pat may not be possible because it wants to be kept free. Training goats the way similar to dogs may be possible, but its wandering nature will always take the better of it. Behind all these hardships in taking care of a goat also comes as its own rewards. Keeping goats for pets can be very rewarding once the owner has been successful in finding the personality of the goat.”

The average lifespan of a goat is about 12 years.

Ted Allen's How to Raise Goats might be a place to get some starter tips.

Keep in mind however, many jurisdictions (like Calgary, Alberta, for instance) consider goats livestock and not appropriate as pets.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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