Dogs are pretty darn good at understanding simple human gestures, like when you point to your dog's bed and she jumps right into it. Or when you are getting ready to leave your house and your dog perks up. We take it for granted, but actually not even wolves or apes can readily understand human gestures. This is a result of dogs' coevolution with humans for the last 15,000 - 150,000 years. The researchers tested 40 dogs and their aim was to determine if the dogs could indicate the location of a hidden object independent of the dog's own interest. When JoJo's tennis ball gets stuck under the dresser, she makes sure that I know where it is! But if it were my car keys??? JoJo could not care less!
The way it worked, was that the owner and dog entered a room. The owner used an object, such as a pair of pliers or a stapler, for about 30 seconds and then another person entered the room to hide the object. All this while the dog watched. THEN, the owner came back into the room and picked up some paper, like they were going to use the stapler and also looked around a bit, as if they were actually looking for their stapler. So each dog should of picked up on the owners body language and figured out that they were looking for something. They used dog toys as a control and repeated each experiment six times, with different human tools. After a whole bunch of boring statistics, this is what they found:
"The second main finding is that the owners’ success rate in finding an object did not decrease over time, suggesting that dogs
remained motivated to indicate an object in which they themselves were not interested." Personally, JoJo would probably care less that I couldn't find my keys! She never wants us to leave!
So Lassie probably could NOT tell anyone that Timmy is stuck in thewell!
(1) Kaminski, J.; Neumann, M.; Bräuer, J.; Call, J.; Tomasello, M. Animal Behaviour 2011, 82, 651–658.