Do Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) Make Counterproductive Choices Because They Are Sensitive to Human Ostensive Cues?

Department of Biomedical Sciences and Technologies, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 04/2012; 7(4):e35437. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035437
Source: PubMed


Dogs appear to be sensitive to human ostensive communicative cues in a variety of situations, however there is still a measure of controversy as to the way in which these cues influence human-dog interactions. There is evidence for instance that dogs can be led into making evaluation errors in a quantity discrimination task, for example losing their preference for a larger food quantity if a human shows a preference for a smaller one, yet there is, so far, no explanation for this phenomenon. Using a modified version of this task, in the current study we investigated whether non-social, social or communicative cues (alone or in combination) cause dogs to go against their preference for the larger food quantity. Results show that dogs' evaluation errors are indeed caused by a social bias, but, somewhat contrary to previous studies, they highlight the potent effect of stimulus enhancement (handling the target) in influencing the dogs' response. A mild influence on the dog's behaviour was found only when different ostensive cues (and no handling of the target) were used in combination, suggesting their cumulative effect. The discussion addresses possible motives for discrepancies with previous studies suggesting that both the intentionality and the directionality of the action may be important in causing dogs' social biases.

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Available from: Emanuela Prato Previde
    • "In addition, some studies indicate that dogs' performance changes according to the level of familiarity (owner-stranger) with the person present during the task (Elgier et al., 2009; Kerepesi et al., 2014; Marshall-Pescini et al., 2012). For instance, Elgier et al. (2009) demonstrated that, in an object-choice task, the extinction of following pointing gestures took longer if the pointer was the dog's owner compared to a stranger. "
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    ABSTRACT: Dogs are able to solve different problems by trial and error learning, but it seems that they cannot understand the means-end connection. Some studies suggest that dogs' performance is influenced by their breed and by the level of familiarity with the person they interact with. In our study, we assess individual differences in both social and non-social responses in a problem-solving task during the acquisition, extinction, and reacquisition phases. In order to investigate the effect of familiarity, in the first experiment, the human present during the task was either a familiar (the dog's owner) or unfamiliar person. In the second experiment, we compared breeds (Retrievers and Shepherds) that had previously shown differences in a communicative task. The results revealed that all groups learned the task and became more efficient in the acquisition trials. These non-social responses diminished during extinction, where an increase in social responses was observed. With regard to individual differences, dogs were more persistent in searching the reward during the second extinction trial when the owner was present (in contrast with a stranger), and also looked longer at the unfamiliar person at the beginning of the acquisition trial. On the other hand, Retrievers showed greater social motivation during reacquisition and Shepherds picked up more bones during the third acquisition trial, thus suggesting a more persisitent search of the reward. These findings highlight the relevance of studying different learning schedules as well as individual differences in problem-solving ability so as to improve selection and training techniques. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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    • "Additionally, the repositioning of E1 behind the close location could have had an erroneous attracting effect. Although the communicative intent was a negative one, the nearby dish could have been made more salient through local enhancement [24]. Thus inexperienced dogs might consider the rule as less important when its communicator leaves the room or misinterpret the posture of the returning person as local enhancement and thus a new imperative upon which to act. "
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies have raised the question of whether dogs, like human infants, comprehend an established rule as generalizable, normative knowledge or rather as episodic information, existing only in the immediate situation. In the current study we tested whether dogs disobeyed a prohibition to take a treat (i) in the presence of the communicator of the ban, (ii) after a temporary absence of the communicator, and (iii) in the presence of a novel person. Dogs disobeyed the rule significantly more often when the communicator left the room for a moment or when they were faced with a new person, than when she stayed present in the room. These results indicate that dogs "forget" a rule as soon as the immediate human context becomes disrupted.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · PLoS ONE
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    • "For example, in a food-quantity discrimination task, although the different size food plates are continuously visible during the demonstration, dogs tend to choose the smaller one when their owner or the experimenter communicate a preference for it (Prato-Previde et al. 2008; Marshall-Pescini et al. 2011; Horowitz et al. 2013). Exactly what mechanisms are responsible for the powerful social influence effect shown by humans' communicative cues on dogs' choices is still a matter of debate (Topál et al. 2009a, 2010; Marshall-Pescini et al. 2010; Kis et al. 2012), however what is perhaps more interesting for the purpose of this chapter is to note that various studies converge in suggesting that direct eye contact appears to be one of the most potent communicative cues that dogs rely on (Kaminski et al. 2012; Marshall-Pescini et al. 2012; Teglas et al. 2012). Overall, it would seem that dogs have a rather sophisticated understanding of eyegazing . "
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    ABSTRACT: The study of dog social cognition is relatively recent and is rapidly developing, providing an interesting and multi-faceted picture of our ‘‘best friend’s’’ sociocognitive abilities. In particular, since Miklósi et al.’s (2003) seminal work ‘‘A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do’’, there has been a surge of interest in the area of dog–human communication. In the current chapter we focus on dogs’ comprehension of the human gaze and their ability to use human-directed-gazing as a communicative tool. We first review studies on the social significance of human eye contact for dogs, their understanding of eyes as indicators of attention, and their ability to take another’s visual perspective into account. We also consider dogs’ understanding of human eye-gaze as a communicative act, in terms of its potentially referential nature and as an ostensive cue signalling the communicative intent of the actor. We then move on to review studies on dogs’ human-directed gazing behaviour, discussing whether it may be considered part of an intentional and referential communicative act, what the underlying motivations and contexts in which this behaviour is exhibited may be, and what variables affect its occurrence. Where open questions remains, we outline current debates and highlight potential directions for future research.
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