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Interspecific behavioural synchronization: Dogs exhibit locomotor synchrony with humans


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Behavioural synchronization is widespread among living beings, including humans. Pairs of humans synchronize their behaviour in various situations, such as walking together. Affiliation between dyadic partners is known to promote behavioral synchronization. Surprisingly, however, interspecific synchronization has recived little scientific investigation. Dogs are sensitive to human cues, and share strong affiliative bonds with their owners. We thus investigated whether, when allowed to move freely in an enclosed unfamiliar space, dogs synchronize their behaviour with that of their owners'. We found that dogs visibly synchronized their location with their owner (staying in close proximity and moving to the same area), as well as their activity and temporal changes in activity (moving when their owner moved, standing still when their owner stood still, and gazing in the same direction as their owner). The present study demonstrates that owners act as attractors for their dogs in an indoor space, as mothers do for their children.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 12384 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-12577-z
Interspecic behavioural
synchronization: dogs exhibit
locomotor synchrony with humans
Charlotte Duranton
1,2, Thierry Bedossa2,3 & Florence Gaunet1
Behavioural synchronization is widespread among living beings, including humans. Pairs of humans
synchronize their behaviour in various situations, such as walking together. Aliation between
dyadic partners is known to promote behavioral synchronization. Surprisingly, however, interspecic
synchronization has recived little scientic investigation. Dogs are sensitive to human cues, and share
strong aliative bonds with their owners. We thus investigated whether, when allowed to move freely
in an enclosed unfamiliar space, dogs synchronize their behaviour with that of their owners’. We found
that dogs visibly synchronized their location with their owner (staying in close proximity and moving
to the same area), as well as their activity and temporal changes in activity (moving when their owner
moved, standing still when their owner stood still, and gazing in the same direction as their owner). The
present study demonstrates that owners act as attractors for their dogs in an indoor space, as mothers
do for their children.
Behaving similarly to others is typical of many groups and dyads. Behavioural non-conscious synchronization is
a widespread phenomenon, found in various taxa, such as insects, birds, and mammals; it has various adaptive
values, such as increasing the eciency of anti-predator strategies and increasing social cohesion (see ref.1 for
a review). In non-human animals, synchronization is said to be non-conscious/implicit as there is no reliable
method to demonstrate consciousness2; further, we do not consider here non-conscious synchronisation as a
function of the optomotor reex system3, as it is a complex behaviour that can be modulated by life experiences,
such as attachement or learning - as described below.
Synchronization is indeed a broad term that encompasses dierent types of synchronies, such as temporal
synchrony (switching actions at the same time, the actions can be identical or dierent, the important feature is
the timing), location synchrony (being in the same place at the same time, the actions can be identical or dierent,
the important feature is the localisation), and activity synchrony (exhibiting the same behaviour at the same time;
for a review see refs4,5). All types of synchronies are present at the dyadic level, between two interacting indi-
viduals such as synchronization of swimming and breathing period in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus)6,
of bouts of vigilance in red-necked pademelons (ylogale thetis)7, and of nest visiting in pairs of zebra nches
(Taeniopygia guttata)8.
In humans, interpersonal interaction oen results in the two partners coordinating/synchronizing their move-
ments9,10. Synchronization is linked to aliation between the partners: being synchronized strengthens social
bonds between individuals, and conversely, the more aliated two individuals are, the more they behave synchro-
nously1113. Synchronization is present in various situations, from rocking in rocking chairs9 to walking side by
side14,15. e two latter studies investigated whether two people walking together would synchronize their behav-
iour even if they were not instructed to do so. e authors found that when walking together, the movements of
each partner in a pair were not independent, but synchronized15. Social interaction with visual contact between
the partners is thus sucient to elicit behavioural synchronization, even in common activities such as walking
together, and aliation increases the degree of synchrony9,16,17.
One common situation in which humans walk with another individual is owners walking their dog. It has been
suggested that synchronization of behaviour between humans and dogs can only emerge if there is attachment
1Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive, Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, UMR7290, Fédération 3C, 3 Place Victor
Hugo, CS 80249, Bât. 9, Case D, 13331, Marseille, CEDEX 03, France. 2AVA Association, 40 Le Quesnoy, 76220, Cuy-
Saint-Fiacre, France. 3Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort, 7 Avenue du Général de Gaulle, 94704, Maisons-Alfort,
France. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.D. (email: charlotte.duranton@
Received: 9 January 2017
Accepted: 6 September 2017
Published: xx xx xxxx
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 12384 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-12577-z
between the individuals, and that this synchrony relies on dogs ‘sensitivity to humans’ behavioural cues through
previous learning experiences18. Current research would suggest that all conditions for synchronization between
the two partners are present: dogs are well integrated into human societies, are highly sensitive to our behavioural
cues (such as e.g. direction of attention) thanks to learning during life experiences, have typically developed
strong aliative bonds with humans (see ref.4 for a review), and are even proposed to resemble to their owners
concerning stylistic attitudes/temperament19. However, the existence of temporal, location or activity synchrony
between these two dierent species is poorly documented. Two studies have investigated dog-human behavioural
synchronization while walking and yielded to the same conclusion. Guide dogs with their blind partner, as well as
pet dogs with their blind-folded owner, presented non-conscious behavioural synchronization when walking, for
instance in the start of movement or in the direction of walk18. During silent walks in the street, sighted owners
and their dogs also presented synchrony in their direction and speed20. However, in both studies the majority
of dogs were observed on leash (although in one study 6% were o-leash20). erefore, it might be thought that,
rather than non-conscious synchronization, most dogs observed had no choice but to synchronize their move-
ments with those of their owners.
We decided to investigate the existence of behavioural synchronization between dogs and their owners when
walking freely – i.e., without a leash. We tested dog-owner dyads moving in an enclosed unfamiliar room. We
hypothesized that during a walk where both partners are physically free to move independently, the dogs would
still synchronize their behaviour with that of their owners. More precisely, we hypothesized that the dogs would
synchronize their location with their owner (i.e., move to the same part of the room and stay into close proximity
with their owner). We also hypothesized that the dogs would synchronize their activity and switch of activity
with their owner (i.e. walk if their owner walks, stop walking when their owner does, switching activities at the
same time). Additionally, it has been found that when confronted with a stranger in an enclosed room, shepherd
dogs remained more focused on their owners than molossoid dogs when the owner stayed still, but the dierence
disappeared when the owner was moving21. We thus also investigated potential eects of these breeds, as well as
sex and age, on dogs’ behavioural synchronization.
All means and standard errors are presented in TableS2 and non-significant results in TableS3, in the
Supplemental Material available.
Location synchrony. Proximity to owner. e main aim of this study was to assess whether dogs modify
their location in a room according to their owners’ location. e dogs spent an average of 23.84 ± 0.46 seconds
within close range of their owners, for an average of 79.47% of total testing time. ere was no eect of condition,
breed, sex, or age on the amount of time that the dogs spent close to their owners (LMERs, p > 0.05 for all, see
TableS3 in the Supplemental Material available).
Occupation of the room. ere was no signicant eect of breed, sex, or age on any of the following variables:
time spent by the dogs in the centre of the room, on the right side of the room, or on the le side of the room
(LMERs, p > 0.05 for all, see TableS3 in the Supplemental Material available).
Dogs spent signicantly more time in the centre of the room in the control and still-move conditions com-
pared to the other conditions (see Table1 and Fig.1)
In this line, we found that the time the dogs spent in the centre of the room was signicantly positively cor-
related with the time the owner spent in the centre of the room for all conditions pooled (Pearson’s correlation,
r = 0.51, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [0.41–0.60]).
As the time the dogs spent on the right side of the room and time spent on the le of the room did not signif-
icantly dier (t-test, p = 0.39), we pooled these two variables together (see TableS1 in the Supplemental Material
available). When dogs were not in the center of the room, they were on the sides; dogs’ time spent at the sides of
the room is the complement of the dogs’ time spent in the centre of the room; the corresponding statistical results
are provided in the TableS4 in the Supplemental Material available.
Activity synchrony. Another aim of this study was to assess whether dogs modulated their activity accord-
ing to that of their owners. Tests (LMERs) revealed no eect of breed, sex, or age on the dogs’ activity (time still,
time moving, gaze direction; p > 0.05 for all, see TableS3 in the Supplemental Material available).
Locomotor activity. Dogs spent more time stationary in the control and still conditions than in the still-move,
move-still, and move conditions (see Table1 and Fig.2). is is conrmed by a signicant positive correlation
between the time dogs spent stationary and the time the owners spent stationary (Pearson’s correlation for all
conditions pooled: r = 0.60, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [0.51–0.68]).
Obviously, when dogs were not still, they were moving. When considering the total time of activity, dogs’ time
spent moving is thus the complement of the dogs’ time staying still; the corresponding results are provided in the
TableS4 in the Supplemental Material available.
Gazing activity. We found a signicant eect of condition on the amount of time the dogs spent gazing toward
the front of the room, with longer times in the control and still conditions than in the still-move, move-still, and
move conditions (see Table1 and Fig.3).
e time the dogs spent gazing at the front of the room was signicantly positively correlated with the time the
owners spent gazing at the front of the room for all conditions pooled (Pearson’s correlation, r = 0.47, p < 0.001,
95% CI = [0.36–0.56]).
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Variables Results Post-hoc
comparisons χ2Df PCohen’s
d95% CI
Time in the
Overall eect 111.93 4 <0.001 —
Post-hoc Control/Still 58.20 1 <0.001 0.80 11.07–19.12
Control/Move 35.19 1 <0.001 0.64 8.04–17.10
Control/SM 1.41 1 0.23 0.14 1.66–6.35
Control/MS 17.45 1 <0.001 0.40 4.53–13.36
Still/Move 3.71 1 0.054 0.12 0.33–5.39
Still/SM 77.19 1 <0.001 0.73 9.80–15.71
Still/MS 23.52 1 <0.001 0.43 3.57–8.73
Move/SM 45.95 1 <0.001 0.99 13.29–7.16
Move/MS 6.17 1 0.01 0.30 0.64 – 6.60
SM/MS 18.19 1 < 0.001 0.46 9.75–3.45
Time stationary
Overall eect 215.51 4 <0.001 —
Post-hoc Control/Still 0.00 1 0.98 0.00 2.01–1.97
Control/Move 111.80 1 <0.001 1.30 11.14–16.45
Control/SM 31.74 1 <0.001 0.84 3.94–8.40
Control/MS 51.13 1 <0.001 0.91 5.74–10.30
Still/Move 141.49 1 <0.001 1.49 16.18–11.45
Still/SM 26.70 1 <0.001 0.58 8.63–3.75
Still/MS 50.63 1 <0.001 0.85 10.33–5.74
Move/SM 54.40 1 <0.001 1.09 9.72–5.52
Move/MS 24.87 1 <0.001 0.66 3.42–8.13
SM/MS 3.23 1 0.07 0.22 3.93–0.24
Gaze to the
Overall eect 76.22 4 <0.001 —
Post-hoc Control/Still 0.24 1 0.62 0.05 1.91–3.13
Control/Move 65.44 1 <0.001 0.90 5.61–9.38
Control/SM 17.14 1 <0.001 0.46 2.14–6.29
Control/MS 12.20 1 < 0.001 0.38 1.55–5.90
Still/Move 50.29 1 <0.001 0.71 8.89–4.88
Still/SM 14.71 1 <0.001 0.47 5.52–1.69
Still/MS 6.97 1 <0.01 0.26 5.55–0.68
Move/SM 22.49 1 <0.001 0.53 4.68–1.87
Move/MS 27.82 1 <0.001 0.48 2.31–5.22
SM/MS 0.31 1 0.57 0.05 1.30–2.28
Table 1. Signicant results for the eect of testing conditions on dependant variables. Results of the LMERs
are provided. All signicant post-hoc comparisons were still signicant aer correction for multiple tests.
Time in the centre = time spent by the dogs in the centre of the room. Time stationary = time spent by the
dogs stationary. Gaze to the front = time spent by the dogs gazing to the front of the room. MS = Move-Still
condition. SM = Still-Move condition. 95% CI and eect size, corresponding to Cohens d, are provided.
Figure 1. Time spent by the dogs in the centre of the testing room. Dogs (N = 48) spent signicantly more time
in the centre of the room in the control and still-move conditions compared to the other conditions. Dierent
letters represent statistical dierences. Data are presented as mean + SE.
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Time spent by the dogs gazing towards the sides of the room is presented in the TableS4 in the Supplemental
Material available.
Temporal synchrony. e nal aim of this study was to assess whether dogs changed their activity when
their owners’ changed theirs during the still-move and the move-still conditions. As the latency before dogs
switched activity in both conditions did not signicantly dier (t-test, p = 0.25), we pooled these two variables
together (see the three denitions in TableS1 in the Supplemental Material available). In average, dogs switched
their activity 3.40 ± 0.52 seconds aer the owner switched their activity. Tests (LMs) revealed no eect of sex on
the dogs’ latency before switching activity (p > 0.05, see TableS3 in the supplemental material). We found a breed
eect, with shepherd dogs exhibiting a shorter latency (2.22 ± 0.44 seconds) before switching to the same activity
as the owner compared to molossoid dogs (4.73 ± 0.93 seconds; LM, χ2 = 70.95, Df = 1, p < 0.01, Cohen’s d = 0.76,
95% CI = [0.51–4.50]). Such a breed eect can easily be explained by physical issues: molossoids are generally
heavier than shepherds, and weight is known to be linked to dogs’ velocity22. is would explain why molossoids
needed more time to switch of activity. We will thus not further discuss this result.
We also found an eect of age, with older dogs having a shorther latency than younger dogs (Pearson’s corre-
lation, r = 0.35, p = 0.01, 95% CI = [0.58–0.06]).
e present study is the rst to nd evidence of behavioural synchronization of a dog toward its owner when both
are moving freely in an enclosed room.
e rst key nding was a strong location synchrony between dogs and their owners. When the owners started
in the centre of the room and spent time there (i.e., in the control and still-move conditions), the dogs spent more
time in the centre of the room. is is conrmed by the positive correlation between the time that dogs and
owners spent in the centre of the room. Location synchrony was also evidenced by the fact that in the conditions
Figure 2. Dogs’ time spent stationary by experimental condition. Dogs (N = 48) spent signicantly more time
stationary in the control, still, and still-move conditions. Dierent letters represent statistical dierences. Data
are presented as mean + SE.
Figure 3. Dogs’ time spent gazing toward the front of the room, by experimental condition. Dogs (N = 48)
spent signicantly more time gazing toward the front of the room in the control and still conditions. Dierent
letters represent statistical dierences. Data are presented as mean + SE. G. = Gaze.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 12384 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-12577-z
where the owners spent most of their time on the sides of the room (i.e., in the still and move conditions), the
dogs also spent more time on the sides of the room. is relationship was conrmed by positive correlations
between the amounts of time that owners and dogs spent on each side of the room. Finally, the results showed
that the dogs spent almost 80% of the time in close proximity to their owners. ese eects did not depend on the
dogs’ breed, sex, or age.
Second, the present study evidenced strong temporal and activity synchronies between the dogs and owners.
Dogs switched to the same behaviour as their owners in 3.4 seconds on average. When their owner stayed still,
dogs also stayed still. is was conrmed by a positive correlation between owners’ and dogs’ stationary time,
as well as by the fact that the dogs’ stationary time in the control and still conditions was longer than in the
still-move and move-still conditions, which in turn were longer than their stationary time in the move condi-
tion. Conversely, when their owner was moving, the dogs were moving too. Even more subtly, synchrony in gaze
direction was also found. e more the owners looked toward the front of the room, the more the dogs did so as
well (i.e., in the control and still conditions compared to other conditions, and cf. the positive correlation between
gazing toward the front of room by the owners and the dogs).
e results thus conrmed all of our hypotheses. Like two people walking side by side14, when a person and a
dog walk indoors, their movements are not independent, but synchronized.
Our results are in line with intraspecic ndings. Dogs show behavioural synchronization with conspecif-
ics in many activities, such as howling, sleeping, and moving23. Two other studies have observed synchroni-
zation when two dogs were running together: they inuenced each other and the two synchronized their pace
of running24,25. It has also been recently shown that dogs follow their conspecics’ direction of walking during
group departures26. e dogs were more synchronized (both location and activity synchrony) with their favourite
social partners26. e authors proposed that it may reect rules evolved for adaptation to the environment before
domestication. As dogs evolved from wolves27, which usually follow their more experienced parents, dogs may be
predisposed to follow their favourite partners and/or the more experienced individuals in their group26.
How might such a phenomenon appear at the interspecic level? Various mechanisms could be at play that
would explain the non-conscious behavioural synchronization observed. One could argue that not talking to the
dogs would have put them in an unatural setting, making them more stressed. We reject this possibility because
dogs were behaving in a relaxed manner before we started the testing phases and throughout the experiment.
Additionnaly, it was only during the 30 seconds of each condition that the owners were instructed not to talk or
engage with their dogs, i.e. being ignored during only 30 seconds was not too stressful nor unusual for the dogs,
as for example when the owners are answering calls while walking or not their dogs, dogs are indeed ignored.
It is thus unlikely that dogs followed their owner because they were seeking proximity due to anxiety, as we
controlled for stress-associated behaviour, and as all dogs were evaluated by their owners as behaving normally.
Nevertheless, elevated physiological measures which could inuence their behavior could have been at play. Even
if not visibly stressed, dogs could have been more alert and could have been seeking proximity to owners as social
support. We thus encourage further study to control for physiological parameters, or to test dogs in more familiar
places, such as for example in their usual walking area.
However, another mechanism could explain the behavioural synchronization we found. It is known that dogs
develop strong aliative bonds with their owners2830 and that oen owners are the favourite social partners for
their dogs28,29. Moreover, in daily life owners control access to the dogs’ food, leash, leisure time and various activ-
ities; the owners choose the timing, direction, and duration of walks, the place where the dog encounters other
dogs, etc. Interestingly, it is known that in dogs, aliation is of great inuence in leadership26. e fact that the
owner is mainly making decisions, such as initiating new directions of walks, may be considered as a type of lead-
ership31. Additionally, leaders are oen individuals possessing special skills about for instance the environment,
which can be applied to humans over dogs in our societies31. Nevertheless one could argue that our results did not
evidence an aer-eect of aliation, i.e. leadership, but instead local enhancement, a form of information transfer
that can be observed in mixed-species stable groups32,33. In the broad sense, local enhancement is observed when
the presence of a group mate at a specic location increases the probability that an observer goes to that location34.
But in the stricto sensu, the display of this processes is linked to foraging contexts: local enhancement is how the
presence of foragers at a location make it more obvious to others searchers32,35. In the present setting, we were very
careful for the dogs not to be in a foraging context: the owners were not allowed to have food with them nor to
provide food to the dog during the whole session (habitution, breaks, and testing conditions). In order to rule out
the possibility that only local enhancement in the broad sense was at play, future studies might measure duration
of ownership and owner’s attachment to their pet dogs to determine if dyads with stronger reported attachment
would also show stronger synchronization. Another, probably more likely, explanation for location and activity
synchrony between dogs and humans, is that dogs are reinforced for following their owners under many dierent
circumstances. When dogs are on-leash, many owners tug on the leash whenever the dog trys to pull away, creat-
ing painful sensations that stop when the dog follows them: this is negative reinforcement for synchronizing their
movements with those of their owners36. Whether dogs are on- or o-leash, many owners pet their dogs or give
them treats for following them, or for coming back when called: this is positive reinforcement for synchronizing
their movements with those of their owners. All of these phenomena may contribute to fostering the dog-human
relationship and to making it benecial for dogs to synchronize their movements (location, direction, walking
speed) with those of their owner. Eect of learning through life experiences is conrmed by our ndings that the
older the dogs, the greater temporal synchrony we observed when switching activites. is latter hypothesis is also
consistent with the gazing behaviour observed in the present study: dogs gazed where their owner gazed. is is
congruent with recent studies on gaze following into distant space that emphazises the eect of training as well as
daily experiences in gaze following behaviour37,38. is suggests that social cognition, learning and aliation are
involved in the synchronization of dogs’ behavior with that of the owner, conrming that the optomotor reex
hypothesis is less likely. Furthermore, as in humans, not moving in synchrony may be too costly for the dyad (e.g.
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decrease of cohesion and communication)16, or at least not being synchronized with their owners may be too
costly for the dogs. Finally, it is worth mentioning that all dog-owner dyads tested were recruited over voluntary
participation. It is thus possible that only owners with an interest in their dog’s behaviour, indicating a strong
relationship with their dogs, participated in the study, explaining the high level of synchronization observed. at
would be consistent with the nding that hormonal state synchronization has been found in dog-human dyads
with a strong relationship39.
A question that nally arises is whether behavioural synchronization between dogs and humans is an invar-
iant phenomenon across situations and dierent populations of owners and dogs. Given that in the present
study dog-human non-conscious synchronization was found, even though dogs were observed in an unfamiliar
enclosed room with a little time of familiarization with the environment, one could suggest that this phenomenon
is likely to be robust and should be present in other contexts. For instance, it has been shown that sheep are more
synchronized in larger spaces40. In open outside areas dogs spontaneously return towards their owners31 even if
they are not very attentive to their owners41. However behavioural synchronization between humans and dogs
was not the main focus of the two above-mentioned studies. It could thus be interesting to observe dogs in larger
outdoor areas to see whether dogs’ movements still follow those of their owners as found in the present study. e
results could possibly then be used in the development of strategies for managing dog behaviour. Additionnally,
it would have been interesting to test the eect of the human’s sex. Due to unbalanced sex ratios, the design of our
current study did not allowed us to properly test this parameter. However, since at least two studies have revealed
that male and female owners do not behave in the same way with their dogs42,43, the eect of owner sex on the
degree of behavioural synchronization would be justied to study. Furthermore, dierent populations of dogs
with dierent aliative bonds to humans, such as pet dogs and shelter dogs, are known to dier in their degree
of sensitivity to humans’ behavioural cues (see ref.44 for a review). In humans, it is known that crawling/walking
infants synchronize with their mothers, as proximity to the mother is critical for social development45,46. So, char-
acterizing the eect of the degree of aliation on dogs’ behavioural synchronization with humans is another issue
of both theoretical and societal relevance. Investigating the attractive eect of the caregiver on shelter dogs, or of
strangers on pet and/or shelter dogs, should shed light on the processes underlying behavioural synchronization.
e present study demonstrated for the rst time the existence of dog-human behavioural synchronization
when both partners move freely in an enclosed room. e phenomenon is so strong that it is visually observable
(see movieS1): aliated humans act as attractors for dogs. Pet dogs spontaneously synchronized their location
and activity with their owners. is paper extends our understanding of the interspecic relationship between
dogs and humans and adds data about the ability of dogs to read human communicative cues in general. We con-
clude that pet dogs act like their owners’ shadows.
Participants. Twenty-four molossoid and 24 shepherd pet dogs (12 males and 12 females in each group)
were tested. Sample size was dened a priori on the basis of previous research (see ref.47). e dogs were between
1 and 11 years old (mean ± SE = 4.5 ± 0.41 years) and did not show any signs of health problems related to ageing
(e.g., eye or joint problems) or behavioural problems (according to their owner’s reports). e testing room was
novel to all dogs.
Ethical note. e study was conducted in accordance to the legal requirements of France (where it was car-
ried out), and the institutional guidelines of the Aix-Marseille Université, France. e owners all signed a consent
form for study participation, and publication of identifying images. e dogs were not physically or psycholog-
ically harmed in the course of our study. All of the dogs were free to move in the room without physical con-
straints. e dogs did not undergo any physical intervention (such as blood or saliva sampling). Aer the test, all
dogs returned home with their owners.
Procedure. Dogs were tested in an unfamiliar empty quiet room (23 m2, Fig.4a) in the National Veterinary
School of Maisons-Alfort (France). At the beginning of the experiment, dogs were given 10 minutes to roam freely
in the room in the presence of their owner and the experimenter. is allowed the dogs to become familiar with
the space. Meanwhile, the experimenter explained the procedure of the test to the owners, with instructions on
how to behave in each testing condition. All dogs were tested in all conditions, and the order of conditions was
randomly assigned. e dog, its owner, and the experimenter then le the room. In all conditions, the owner then
entered the room with the dog o leash, and walked to a predened location. In the control condition, the owner
went to location C and stayed still there for 30 seconds (see Fig.4c). In the still condition, the owner went to loca-
tion L or R – the side was randomly assigned but counterbalanced across dogs – and stayed still for 30 seconds
(see Fig.4b le, 4c). In the move condition, the owner went to location L or R – the side was randomly assigned
but counterbalanced across dogs – and then started to walk along line W for 30 seconds; the back and forth
walk ended wherever the owner was at the end of the 30-second period (see Fig.4b right, 4c). In the still-move
condition, the owner went to location C and stayed still for 15 seconds, then walked back and forth along line W
for 15 seconds; the walk ended wherever the owner was at the end of the 15-second period (see Fig.4c). In the
move-still condition, the owner went to location C and walked back and forth along line W for 15 seconds, then
stopped at location C and stayed still for 15 seconds (see Fig.4c).
During the habituation phase, when the dogs were exploring the room, owners were authorized to speak to
their pet and oer social support to the dogs when they felt it was necessary. Additionnally, during each break
between the conditions, owners could talk and engage in any activity they wanted with their dogs to ensure that
the dogs were comfortable. Owners had to behave as usual with their dogs.
roughout the test, the dogs were o leash. When the owners were still, they were always looking towards
the front of the room (see Fig.4). During the testing conditions, owners were instructed not to show any
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 12384 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-12577-z
emotional reaction, talk to their dogs, or look at them. Conditions were separated by a 10-minutes break. Owners
could interact normally with their dogs during the habituation phase as well as each break between the testing
See MovieS1 to watch 10 seconds-long excerpts of each condition.
Behavioural analysis. Two cameras recorded the movements of both dogs and owners. Main studied var-
iables (6) were: time spent in close range (<1 m radius circle) with the owner, time spent stationary, time spent
in the centre of the room, time spent moving, time spent gazing toward the front of the room, and latency before
dogs’ switching to same activity as owners; cf. results below. Secondary variables, that were complement of the
main variables or additional variables were: time spent moving, time spent on the right side of the room, time
spent on the le side of the room, time spent on either side of the room, time spent gazing toward the le side of
the room, time spent gazing toward the right side of the room, time spent gazing toward the sides of the room,
time spent on line W, time spent gazing at the owner, latency before dogs’ switching to still in the move-still
condition, latency before dogs’ switching to move in the still-move condition. Results for secondary variables are
presented only in the Supplemental Material available. TableS1 in the Supplemental Material available presents a
denition of each variable and details of the behavioural analyses are also provided in the Supplemental Material
Statistical analysis. To analyze the potential eects of experimental condition, sex, age, and breed and any
interactions between them on dogs’ behavioural responses, we used R (version 3.2.0). We used a linear mixed
model for dependent data (LMER; normal distribution of the residuals was graphically checked) to test the eects
of condition, breed, sex and age on all measures of dogs’ behaviour (details are provided in the Supplemental
Material available). Where needed, we carried out post hoc comparisons with Holm-Bonferroni corrections
for multiple tests. Where necessary, we used Pearson’s correlations to characterize the relationship between
Figure 4. Experimental setting. Photography Credits: Charlotte Duranton. Cam = camera.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 12384 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-12577-z
dog-related variables and owner-related variables. Eect size (Cohen’s d for LMER, and r coecient for Pearson’s
correlations) and 95% condence intervals (CI) are provided.
Data availability. e datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available in
the Open Science Framework repository,
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e authors are grateful to Ciska Girault and Marie Legain who helped during the study, and to Dr. Monique
Udell who reviewed our manuscript. We also thank the owners who volunteered for the study. is work was
funded by the Association Nationale de la Recherche et de la Technologie, the Association Aide aux Vieux
Animaux, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientique, Aix-Marseille Université, LABX-0036 (BLRI) and
Institut Convergences for Programme d’Investissements d’Avenir (ILCB).
Author Contributions
All authors designed the experiment. C.D. conducted the experiments and analyses. C.D. and F.G. wrote the main
manuscript text. All authors reviewed the manuscript.
Additional Information
Supplementary information accompanies this paper at
Competing Interests: e authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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... It has also recently been observed that dogs synchronize their activity with humans in various situations [15]. Both indoors and outdoors, dogs synchronize their gaze and movements with those of humans [15][16][17]. When highly familiar with their human partner, dogs also synchronize with their reaction when facing an unfamiliar object [18] or human [19]. ...
... Such findings are consistent with a recent study evidencing social referencing in puppies [25], a general level of behavioural synchronization [19]. Our results are also in line with previous studies evidencing that adult dogs exhibit activity synchrony with humans when they are moving [16,22]. However, it is striking that such a precise activity synchrony is evidenced in puppies. ...
Full-text available
Behavioural synchronization is a widespread skill in social species as it helps increase group cohesion among individuals. Such a phenomenon is involved in social interactions between conspecifics as well as between individuals from different species. Most importantly, familiarity and affiliation between interacting partners influence the degree of behavioural synchronization they would exhibit with each other. For example, in human–dog dyads, the more a dog is affiliated with its human partner, the more it behaves in a synchronous way with them. However, little is known about the ontogeny of such a behaviour, especially from an interspecific perspective. The aim of the present study was thus to investigate the existence and modalities of activity synchrony, a type of behavioural synchronization, between humans and puppies. To do so, we observed 29 dog puppies interacting with two different humans (familiar and unfamiliar experimenters). Puppy movements and general activity in relation to the human ones were observed. Results evidenced that puppies did exhibit locomotor synchrony with humans, but familiarity did not affect its degree. It is the first time that activity synchrony with human walk is evidenced in puppies, highly suggesting that dogs’ ability to behave in synchronization with humans seems to be genetically selected through the process of domestication, while the effect of familiarity on it might develop later during the individual ontogeny.
... It is likely that time, proximity, and shared experiences in a variety of situations together assist guardians in learning more about a dog and their responses, reactions, and preferences in a multitude of contexts. This phenomenon is known as behavioural or local synchronicity [43][44][45][46]. For learning to occur however, the human party would still need to observe, acknowledge, and understand the emotions behind a behaviour within a situation [36]. ...
... One example of beneficial adaptation for dog-human affiliation is behavioural synchronization [43][44][45][46]. Duranton and Gaunet (2016) defined behavioural synchronization as both parties doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place [46]. ...
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Dogs play an important role in many western societies, providing companionship, emotional support, and assistance, as well as other more specialist roles. The literature reveals that many human–animal interaction (HAI) questionnaires exist to measure the human–dog bond (HDB). The first part of this study assessed how far existing questionnaires went in measuring HDB (defined as the unique, dynamic and reciprocated relationship between a person and dog, one in which each member can influence the other’s psychological and physiological state). A systematic literature review revealed that a common limitation in HDB questionnaires was a lack of questions based on the dog’s investment in the bond and, therefore, a failure to measure the two-way characteristic of the HDB. This led to the second part of the study: to identify novel themes relating to dog investment in the HDB from which new tool questions could be developed. This was investigated qualitatively using twelve semi-structured interviews on HDB, undertaken with participants from a variety of dog–guardian relationship types. HDB themes that emerged included ‘adaptation’, ‘understanding of a dog’s preferences, likes, and dislikes’, and ‘affirmation’. Subthemes included ‘boundaries’ and ‘expectations’ (within adaptation), ‘excitement’, ‘proximity’, ‘affection’, and ‘recall’ (within affirmation). The themes that arose provide a foundation from which to build new lines of questioning within HDB tools. Such questioning can better represent a dog’s investment in the HDB and, therefore, help create tools that reflect the reciprocal nature of a bond more accurately.
... Dogs' roles in the human social world have led to heightened cooperation and environments in which rudimentary forms of joint intentionality may have emerged. Dogs live in close proximity to humans, and through the process of domestication have developed an unusual tolerance for and sensitivity to humans (Ben-Aderet et al. 2017;Bray et al. 2020Bray et al. , 2021Duranton et al. 2017;Hare et al. 2005;Kaminski et al. 2011;Lakatos et al. 2009;Salomons et al. 2021;Teglas et al. 2012;Topal et al. 2009). Moreover, there is preliminary evidence that dogs may be sensitive to humans' goals and intentions (Marshall-Pescini et al. 2013Passalacqua et al. 2011;Piotti and Kaminski 2016;Schünemann et al. 2021). ...
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Joint intentionality, the mutual understanding of shared goals or actions to partake in a common task, is considered an essential building block of theory of mind in humans. Domesticated dogs are unusually adept at comprehending human social cues and cooperating with humans, making it possible that they possess behavioral signatures of joint intentionality in interactions with humans. Horschler and colleagues (Anim Behav 183: 159–168, 2022) examined joint intentionality in a service dog population, finding that upon interruption of a joint experience, dogs preferentially re-engaged their former partner over a passive bystander, a behavior argued to be a signature of joint intentionality in human children. In the current study, we aimed to replicate and extend these results in pet dogs. One familiar person played with the dog and then abruptly stopped. We examined if dogs would preferentially re-engage the player instead of a familiar bystander who was also present. Consistent with the findings of Horschler and colleagues (Anim Behav 183: 159–168, 2022), pet dogs preferentially gazed toward and offered the toy to the player significantly more than the familiar bystander. However, no difference was observed in physical contact. These findings provide preliminary evidence for behavioral signatures of joint intentionality in pet dogs, but future work is needed to understand whether this phenomenon extends to other contexts.
... The data received at this stage contain frames with a dog alone, frames with one or more people, frames with people and a dog, or frames of an empty room. To ensure consistent observations and prevent the owner's presence from influencing the dog's behavior [27], this module selects only sequences of frames where the dog is alone and discards the remaining ones. YOLOR object detection was first used to detect humans and dogs in each sequence. ...
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The popularity of dogs has been increasing owing to factors such as the physical and mental health benefits associated with raising them. While owners care about their dogs’ health and welfare, it is difficult for them to assess these, and frequent veterinary checkups represent a growing financial burden. In this study, we propose a behavior-based video summarization and visualization system for monitoring a dog’s behavioral patterns to help assess its health and welfare. The system proceeds in four modules: (1) a video data collection and preprocessing module; (2) an object detection-based module for retrieving image sequences where the dog is alone and cropping them to reduce background noise; (3) a dog behavior recognition module using two-stream EfficientNetV2 to extract appearance and motion features from the cropped images and their respective optical flow, followed by a long short-term memory (LSTM) model to recognize the dog’s behaviors; and (4) a summarization and visualization module to provide effective visual summaries of the dog’s location and behavior information to help assess and understand its health and welfare. The experimental results show that the system achieved an average F1 score of 0.955 for behavior recognition, with an execution time allowing real-time processing, while the summarization and visualization results demonstrate how the system can help owners assess and understand their dog’s health and welfare.
... We, however, instructed human partners to not look or interact with the dog during the test trials so they could not inadvertently cue the dogs, removing that cue and potentially increasing the difficulty for the dogs. It is also interesting that human partners in the present study were the dogs' owners, and some evidence suggests that dogs pay closer attention to the actions of humans with whom they share a strong bond [47] (but see [48] for a lack of relationship between affiliation and over-imitation), would rescue their owner from a box more often if they express distress [49,50], and exhibit locomotor synchrony with them [51,52]. We are currently exploring whether the relationship between partners and dogs affects their level of coordination in a cooperative task, and hope that further studies will explore whether the dog' performance is related to the dog-owner interaction style [53]. ...
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Humans stand out for their capacity to flexibly cooperate, possibly because they understand their partners' role. Researchers have explored if such understanding is unique to humans by assessing whether non-human species wait to manipulate a cooperative apparatus until a delayed partner arrives. If animals do wait, then it is assumed that they recognize the need for a partner. However, success in these tasks may be the result of social facilitation, while failure may be due to poor inhibitory control. Moreover, this approach does not test if animals take their partners’ actions into account. Here we trained dogs to press a button simultaneously with their human partner. Afterwards, we tested them in several conditions to disentangle which elements of their partner's behaviour they take into account. Dogs waited to press the button until the delayed partner arrived, the button was available to the partner and the partner acted (pressed the button). We found no relationship between inhibitory control and success. We conclude that dogs are not merely reacting to the presence of their human partners, but are also taking their actions into account when coordinating with them.
... Early studies suggest that staring and direct eye-contact is a component of offensive threat in dogs' conspecific interactions (Simpson 1997). Other studies highlight that dogs could interpret the staring of a human as a mild threatening signal (Duranton et al. 2017;Soproni et al. 2001). Present results confirm these hypotheses showing how dogs who had an offensive/defensive reaction towards the threatening stimuli did not perform many head turns and instead stared at the human for longer. ...
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Appeasement signals are behavioural patterns displaying an animal’s non-aggressive attitude and are hypothesized to reduce the aggressive behaviours in the receiver. In domestic dogs, specific displacement behaviours (i.e., behavioural patterns exhibited without an apparent function related to the ongoing situation), have been suggested to function as appeasement signals. To test this possibility, we assessed whether the occurrence of these behaviours was dependent on a social conflict context, predicting that, if displacement behaviours also function as appeasement signals, they should be more prevalent in a conflict vs. non-conflict context. Fifty-three dogs were exposed to two unfamiliar humans approaching them in either a mildly threatening or neutral way. We categorized the attitude of the dogs towards the strangers as “reactive”, i.e., barking and lunging towards the stimulus, and “non-reactive”, i.e., remaining passive in front of the stimuli. We coded dogs’ displacement activities and modelled their duration or frequency as a function of the interaction between the test condition and the attitude of the dog. Displacement behaviours of “blinking”, “nose licking” and “lip wiping” were associated with a “non-reactive” attitude, independently from the test condition, confirming an association with a non-aggressive intention. “Head turning” was associated with a “non-reactive” attitude in the threatening condition. In conclusion, dogs with a non-aggressive attitude exhibited more putative appeasement signals; however, these were not strictly associated with a conflict-ridden situation, calling for further investigation of their function.
... Behavioural synchronization is defined as the temporal matching of actions, movements or gestures of several individuals, in particular in social species and cooperative breeders, and is, for example, related to increased social cohesion and attachment [29][30][31][32][33]. Interestingly, this phenomenon can be observed within and between species [34][35][36][37] and it facilitates achieving a common goal [38] or increasing affiliation to strengthen relationships [39], e.g., while walking next to each other in daily life [40][41][42]. Behavioural studies showed that dogs actively adapt to and synchronize their behaviour with a human partner, and do so more with their human caregivers than with strangers, indicating the role of affiliative relationships in this process [43,44]. Social referencing is one form of such behavioural synchronization; here dogs seek emotional information from their caregivers and mirror their behaviour when being confronted with a novel object. ...
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Pet dogs are promising candidates to study attachment-related and potentially jealousy-like behaviours in non-human animals, as they form a strong and stable bond with their human caregivers who often engage in affiliative interactions with diverse social partners. Nevertheless, it is still debated whether non-human animals are capable of experiencing such complex emotions. Even though caregivers frequently report observations of jealousy-like behaviours in dogs, behavioural studies in dogs have thus far led to contradictory results. Adding to this complexity, dogs appear extraordinarily skilled in understanding humans’ communicative behaviour and can flexibly and diversely interact with them in social contexts. Here, we aimed at investigating (1) whether dogs indeed respond in a jealousy-consistent manner when seeing their caregiver interact in an affiliative way with a remotely controlled, realistic-looking fake dog, or (2) whether they would rather synchronize their reaction to the fake dog with the caregiver’s behaviour, or (3) whether they respond directly to the caregiver without paying much attention to the third party. To address what drives the dogs’ behaviours in this triadic situation, we compared four groups of dogs who first observed and then joined the interaction of either the caregiver or a stranger greeting or medically examining the fake dog. We found that the dogs initially responded negatively or neutrally when the fake dog entered the room but changed to more positive reactions when the caregiver approached the fake dog, especially if initiating a positive interaction. When being released, more dogs showed friendly behaviours towards the fake dog when the caregiver—rather than the stranger—was interacting with it. At the same time, however, the dogs tried to block the interaction of the caregiver with the fake dog more often than the one of the stranger. In conclusion, we did not find clear evidence for jealousy-like behaviours in dogs during the human–fake dog interactions, but we observed indicators of behavioural synchronization with the caregivers, suggesting that the caregivers’ affiliative behaviours directed at a third party may more often facilitate positive than negative interactions in dogs.
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Recent studies have demonstrated that dogs synchronize their locomotor behaviour with that of their owners. The present study aims to improve our understanding of the sensorimotor processes underlying interspecific behavioural synchronization by testing the influence of the number of humans on dogs' behavioural synchronization. We used Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in an outdoor environment to measure dogs' behavioural synchronization to humans during a locomotor activity involving three speeds (static, slow walking and fast walking). For half of the dogs, only their owner was walking, while for the other half, the owner walked with two familiar people. We also tested the effect of dog breeds by involving 30 shepherd dogs and 30 molossoids. Our results showed that dogs exhibited the same level of behavioural synchronization with their owner if alone or if surrounded by two familiar people. Though the presence of a group of humans did not strengthen the dogs' locomotor synchronization, it did produce another effect: dogs gazed at their owners more frequently in the presence of a group compared to their owner alone. This result suggests the same level of locomotor social entrainment but a difference in social referencing depending on the number of humans.
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Background Social organisms synchronize behaviors as an evolutionary-conserved means for thriving. Synchronization under threat, in particular, benefits survival and occurs across species, including humans, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown, due to the scarcity of the relevant animal models. Here, we developed a rodent paradigm in which mice synchronize classically conditioned fear response and identified an underlying neuronal circuit. Methods Males and female mice were trained individually in an auditory fear conditioning and then tested 24 h later as dyads allowing unrestricted social interaction during exposure to the conditioned stimulus, under the visible or infrared illumination to eliminate visual cues. The synchronization of the immobility or freezing bouts was quantified by calculating the effect size Cohen’s D for the difference between the actual freezing time overlap and the overlap by chance. The inactivation of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, dorsal hippocampus, or ventral hippocampus was achieved by local infusions of muscimol. The chemogenetic disconnection of the hippocampus-amygdala pathway was performed by expressing hM4D(Gi) in the ventral hippocampal neurons and infusing CNO in the amygdala. Results Mice synchronized cued but not contextual fear. It was higher in males than in females and attenuated in the absence of visible light. Inactivation of the ventral but not dorsal hippocampus or dorsomedial prefrontal cortex abolished fear synchronization. Finally, the disconnection of the hippocampal-amygdala pathway diminished fear synchronization. Conclusions Mice synchronize expression of conditioned fear relying on the ventral hippocampus-amygdala pathway, suggesting that the hippocampus transmits social information to the amygdala to synchronize threat response.
Dairy cows are gregarious animals that are able to thrive in a stable social group and form long-lasting dyadic relationships. However, in the modern UK commercial dairy industry, cows are commonly regrouped/relocated as part of the management plan, forcing the cows to change social partners regularly. Social bonding in group-housed adult dairy cows and calves have been shown to be associated with spatial-proximity of conspecifics within the pen, with closer individuals establishing stronger relationships, but little is known about the influence of consistent social associations at the AMS on milk production in dairy cattle in a robotic milking system under commercial conditions. This study determined if there were consistent social associations during milking at AMS between cows in a free traffic system using the time between milking events (i.e. time between the next cow arriving and the preceding cow leaving) in the same pen on the same day retrieved from the AMS and whether these associations influence milk yield, fat and protein content. The relative association strengths, accounting for opportunity to associate, were calculated (i.e., the observed number of associations between pairs was divided by the number of days cows shared the same pen together) and used as the measure of social association between the cows. Multiple linear regression models in R were used to assess whether relative mean and maximum association strength scores (mean-centred) influenced average daily milk yield and for each composition trait depending on the parity. Associations among cows at the AMS were much more variable in strength than expected by chance, indicating the presence of consistent associations that might represent social preferences. Multiparous cows had stronger mean social association strength compared to the primiparous cows. Both mean and maximum association strengths were not related to average milk yield but were related to milk fat and protein percentages depending on the parity group. On average, multiparous cows had greater average daily milk yield compared to primiparous cows, however, a significant decrease in milk fat and protein percentage was found in multiparous (older) cows with increased mean association strength which did not occur in the primiparous (younger) cows. In conclusion, while consistent social associations at the AMS may bring benefits for younger cows, older cows may adjust their daily activity budgets to establish these associations, with consequences for their milk composition.
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Dogs are renowned for being skilful at using human-given communicative cues such as pointing. Results are contradictory, however, when it comes to dogs' following human gaze, probably due to methodological discrepancies. Here we investigated whether dogs follow human gaze to one of two food locations better than into distant space even after comparable pre-training. In Experiments 1 and 2, the gazing direction of dogs was recorded in a gaze-following into distant space and in an object-choice task where no choice was allowed, in order to allow a direct comparison between tasks, varying the ostensive nature of the gazes. We found that dogs only followed repeated ostensive human gaze into distant space, whereas they followed all gaze cues in the object-choice task. Dogs followed human gaze better in the object-choice task than when there was no obvious target to look at. In Experiment 3, dogs were tested in another object-choice task and were allowed to approach a container. Ostensive cues facilitated the dogs’ following gaze with gaze as well as their choices: we found that dogs in the ostensive group chose the indicated container at chance level, whereas they avoided this container in the non-ostensive group. We propose that dogs may perceive the object-choice task as a competition over food and may interpret non-ostensive gaze as an intentional cue that indicates the experimenter's interest in the food location she has looked at. Whether ostensive cues simply mitigate the competitive perception of this situation or they alter how dogs interpret communicative gaze needs further investigation. Our findings also show that following gaze with one's gaze and actually choosing one of the two containers in an object-choice task need to be considered as different variables. The present study clarifies a number of questions related to gaze-following in dogs and adds to a growing body of evidence showing that human ostensive cues can strongly modify dog behaviour.
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A dogged investigation of domestication The history of how wolves became our pampered pooches of today has remained controversial. Frantz et al. describe high-coverage sequencing of the genome of an Irish dog from the Bronze Age as well as ancient dog mitochondrial DNA sequences. Comparing ancient dogs to a modern worldwide panel of dogs shows an old, deep split between East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Thus, dogs were domesticated from two separate wolf populations on either side of the Old World. Science , this issue p. 1228
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Synchronized behaviours are found in various species, among all taxa of live beings. Being synchronized with other individuals is defined by doing the same thing, at the same time and at the same place as others. It is observed within intraspecific groups and dyads. We aim to provide a synthetic overview of what is behavioural synchronization and focus on the adaptive value of such a phenomenon among individuals. Then, as it is observed that some stable groups or dyads consist of individuals from different species, we finally propose to investigate the existence of interspecific behavioural synchronization.
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When confronted with an unfamiliar object, dogs, Canis familiaris, engage in social referencing, i.e. synchronizing their reaction with that of their owner. The question of whether, like infants, they do so when confronted with an unfamiliar person, has not yet been studied. We tested the reactions of 72 pet dogs (36 shepherds and 36 molossoids) that were confronted with an unfamiliar person who approached them in a neutral manner. The dogs' owners were instructed to behave in one of three ways towards the stranger: stay still, approach or retreat. The dogs performed referential looks and gaze alternations between the experimenter and their owner. In the retreat condition, the dogs looked at the stranger significantly sooner and took significantly more time before first contact with the stranger compared to the approach condition. Moreover, in the retreat condition the dogs interacted more with their owners compared to other conditions. Additionally, sex had an effect on dogs' behaviours, with males looking towards their owner for information less than females. Breed also influenced dogs' reactions, with molossoid dogs behaving more independently than shepherd dogs. This study shows that pet dogs use social referencing with their owner in an approach paradigm involving a stranger. These findings provide evidence of similar processes in dogs with their owners and human infants with caregivers, and suggest a new way to manage dogs' reactions in public places.
1. This experiment represents an attempt to distinguish effects of social facilitation which may be caused by mutual mimicry of goal-directed behavior, and those which may be caused by competition. 2. Unfamiliarity should interfere with mutual mimicry but should intensify competition. 3. Sixteen dogs of five different breeds were run in familiar and unfamiliar pairs as well as alone. 4. Dogs run repeatedly with the same unfamiliar animal showed no important differences in either mutual mimicry or social facilitation as compared with runs with familiar animals. 5. Dogs run with a. different animal on each day showed lessened mutual mimicry and social interference amounting to 73%. 6. It is concluded that the results are consistent with the hypothesis that one factor which may produce social facilitation is mutual mimicry of goal-directed behavior, and that this factor may act independently of competition. 7. As a further hypothesis, it is proposed that this factor may exist in any species which shows allelomimetic behavior, and that it may modify the effects of competition in such species. 8. Certain comparisons with human situations are discussed.
Dogs are known to be skilled at using human social signals such as pointing at a target, gaze, visual direction of attention, and facial emotional cues. Two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses have been proposed to explain these abilities: the domestication hypothesis and the “Two Stage” hypothesis. One way to test the Two Stage hypothesis is to compare subpopulations of dogs with different histories with humans. For example, the abilities of pet dogs, who live in human homes and have developed strong affiliative bonds with humans, can be compared with those of shelter dogs, who live in social isolation and are deprived of extended contact with humans. Here we review the extant literature on studies comparing these two subpopulations using identical protocols. Pet dogs perform better than shelter dogs at following human pointing and at estimating humans’ attentional state or direction of visual attention. Shelter dogs seem to be more socially driven to gaze and interact with humans compared to pet dogs. Shelter dogs’ impoverished contact with humans is the best candidate explanation for these results. We survey results highlighting the importance of life experience and learning in determining dogs’ abilities to use human social cues, and argue that shelter dogs may have learned not to respond to human cues that are not useful to them, or have lost some previously acquired skills due to a lack of exposure to humans. Finally, we encourage further research that adds to both our theoretical and practical understanding of the impaired abilities of shelter dogs to use human social cues, and its link with the effect of life experiences.