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Obey or Not Obey? Dogs (Canis familiaris) Behave Differently in Response to Attentional States of Their Owners.


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Sixteen domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) were tested in a familiar context in a series of 1-min trials on how well they obeyed after being told by their owner to lie down. Food was used in 1/3 of all trials, and during the trial the owner engaged in 1 of 5 activities. The dogs behaved differently depending on the owner's attention to them. When being watched by the owner, the dogs stayed lying down most often and/or for the longest time compared with when the owner read a book, watched TV, turned his or her back on them, or left the room. These results indicate that the dogs sensed the attentional state of their owners by judging observable behavioral cues such as eye contact and eye, head, and body orientation.
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Obey or Not Obey? Dogs (Canis familiaris) Behave Differently in
Response to Attentional States of Their Owners
Christine Schwab and Ludwig Huber
University of Vienna
Sixteen domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) were tested in a familiar context in a series of 1-min trials on
how well they obeyed after being told by their owner to lie down. Food was used in 1/3 of all trials, and
during the trial the owner engaged in 1 of 5 activities. The dogs behaved differently depending on the
owner’s attention to them. When being watched by the owner, the dogs stayed lying down most often
and/or for the longest time compared with when the owner read a book, watched TV, turned his or her
back on them, or left the room. These results indicate that the dogs sensed the attentional state of their
owners by judging observable behavioral cues such as eye contact and eye, head, and body orientation.
Keywords: dog– human relationship, Canis familiaris, attention, social cognition, communication
Communication by visual signals is a crucial feature in the
human– dog relationship. Working dogs such as hunting or shep-
herd dogs have probably been selected for their understanding of
human communicative signals, including visual ones. It is yet
undecided whether dogs’ understanding of human communicative
cues is a genetic trait or develops during ontogeny following close
contact with humans. Studies have shown that dogs understand
visual cues given by humans very well (Hare, Brown, Williamson,
& Tomasello, 2002; Hare, Call, & Tomasello, 1998; McKinley &
Sambrook, 2000; Miklo´si, Polga´rdi, Topa´l, & Csa´nyi, 1998; So-
proni, Miklo´si, Topa´l, & Csa´nyi, 2001, 2002) and are also able to
recognize and use visual attention of humans (Hare et al., 1998;
Hare & Tomasello, 1999; Miklo´si, Polga´rdi, Topa´l, & Csa´nyi,
2000; Vira´ny, Topa´l, Ga´csi, Miklo´si, & Csa´nyi, 2004). For com-
munication to fulfill the purpose of reliably transferring visual
signals from a sender to a receiver, attention plays a crucial role.
Either there is first attention contact between the individuals in-
volved followed by the signal to be transmitted or the signal can be
followed by looking toward the receiver to check whether he or
she was attending (Miklo´si et al., 2000). In either case, attention is
necessary to actively and usefully transfer signals and is mainly
described by two components.
The first component is the so-called shared attention mechanism
(SAM), a neurocognitive mechanism for identifying if one person
and another organism are both attending to the same object or
event (Baron-Cohen & Swettenham, 1996), which is expressed
either by following the gaze of others or by directing someone’s
attention to an object or event and is necessarily accompanied by
observable behavioral cues. Following the gaze of others cannot
occur without the model turning his or her eyes and often also the
head or body to the object or event of interest, and directing
someone’s attention to something is often realized through ges-
tures like showing or pointing; these are therefore main features of
communication (Baron-Cohen & Swettenham, 1996).
Eye contact is a second essential feature of attention. It has been
considered as an index of attention contact and is fundamental in
communicative situations (Go´mez, 1991). The general picture is
that attentional states of communicative partners are characterized
by overt signals (Sce´rif, Go´mez, & Byrne, 2004), perceived from
behavioral cues, like body posture, or from facial configuration,
like head orientation and gaze direction (Baron-Cohen, 1991).
The use of human bodily cues has been found in object-choice
tasks with a number of different species. Researchers have inves-
tigated an animal’s understanding of communicative cues by ac-
tively directing the animal’s attention to an object with gestures
like touching, pointing (with arm, hand, and finger), gazing (turn-
ing head and eyes), and glancing (eyes only; Baron-Cohen &
Swettenham, 1996). Horses (Equus caballus) show the ability to
use touching and pointing gestures (McKinley & Sambrook,
2000), as do domestic goats (Capra hircus; Kaminski, Riedel,
Call, & Tomasello, 2005) and one gray seal (Halichoerus grypus;
Shapiro, Janik, & Slater, 2003), but they all failed to understand
referential cues like gazing and glancing (if the latter was tested at
all). Capuchin monkeys (Cebus capella) show similar abilities in
comprehending human pointing gestures but fail to use head and
eye direction (Anderson, Sallaberry, & Barbier, 1995; Itakura &
Anderson, 1996). There is some ambiguity in studies of apes.
Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) seem to need some training to
understand pointing cues (Povinelli, Bierschwale, & Cech, 1999),
whereas the ability to use gazing (Call, Hare, & Tomasello, 1998;
Povinelli et al., 1999) or glancing as a referential cue in apes is
debated (Call, Agnetta, & Tomasello, 2000).
In contrast, the majority of dogs effectively use many different
visual cues given by humans in object-choice tasks (Hare et al.,
2002). They understand gestures of pointing very well (Hare et al.,
1998; McKinley & Sambrook, 2000; Miklo´si et al., 1998; Soproni
Christine Schwab and Ludwig Huber, Department for Behavior, Neu-
robiology and Cognition, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
We thank all dogs and their owners for spending time and energy to
participate in this study and Viennese dog schools for allowing us to recruit
participants. Special thanks goes to Elisabeth Sowka for discussion and
suggestions and Bernhard Voelkl and Hermann Prossinger for statistical
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chris-
tine Schwab, who is now at the Konrad-Lorenz-Forschungsstelle,
Gruenau/Almtal, Fischerau 11, Gruenau A-4645, Austria. E-mail:
Journal of Comparative Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association
2006, Vol. 120, No. 3, 169 –175 0735-7036/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0735-7036.120.3.169
et al., 2002) and are also able to use gazing to find the hidden food
(Hare et al., 1998; Soproni et al., 2001), whereas glancing seems
to be the most difficult cue for dogs to understand (Hare et al.,
1998; McKinley & Sambrook, 2000; Miklo´si et al., 1998; Soproni
et al., 2001).
But still, direct eye contact not only seems to be a crucial feature
in communicative situations but also plays an important role in
predator–prey relations. When disturbed, hognose snakes (Heter-
odon platirhinos) often puff, hiss, coil, and strike, followed by
energetic writhing behavior that ends in a quiescent inverted
posture with the mouth open, the tongue extruded, and no overt
signs of breathing (Burghardt & Greene, 1988). Recovery time
from this death-feigning behavior has been investigated with the
presence of a human gazing at the snake and with the presence of
a human with his eyes averted from the snake. Results showed that
recovery times from the death feigning in the human-gazing con-
dition were significantly higher than in a control condition and
suggest that hognose snakes possess good visual acuity and can
use this ability in a rather sophisticated way to adaptively modify
their behavior (Burghardt, 1991). Furthermore, snakes might well
be more sensitive to visual cues from a predator’s eyes than just its
presence (Burghardt & Greene, 1988).
Similar results concerning gazing humans in a predator–prey
context were obtained from Burger and colleagues, who investi-
gated fleeing responses to humans in black iguanas (Ctenosaura
similis). Iguanas moved earlier, ran earlier, and ran further when
the face of an approaching human was clearly visible than when an
approaching human’s face was hidden by hair (Burger & Goch-
feld, 1993). Likewise the iguanas responded differently when a
human approached directly or tangentially with direct or averted
gaze: Their escape distances and distances the iguanas ran were
greatest when the human looked and walked toward the iguana and
were least when the human approached tangentially and looked
away (Burger, Gochfeld, & Murray, 1992). The same results in
escape behavior were found when the approaching human wore a
mask with large eyes than when he wore a mask with small eyes
(Burger, Gochfeld, & Murray, 1991). Burger et al. (1992) con-
cluded that the iguanas’ ability to perceive differences in predator
behavior could be attributed to many factors, including body
orientation and direction of gaze.
Furthermore, this differential sensitivity to external stimuli has
been shown in chickens (Gallus gallus) in shock situations. They
showed significantly differential tonic immobility (freezing) be-
havior with regard to the presence of conspecifics compared with
the presence or absence of artificial eyes (Rodd, Rosellini, Stock,
& Gallup, 1997). The latter are considered as a fear stimulus for
chickens in the context of predation (Gallup, Nash, & Ellison,
In our study we investigated to what extent dogs are able to
discriminate attentional states of humans expressed in different
body postures and modify their behavior accordingly. The exper-
imental design is similar to the one reported by Call and colleagues
(Call, Bra¨uer, Kaminski, & Tomasello, 2003), in which the dog
“competes” with a more or less attentive human over food. In that
study, the experimenter placed a piece of dry dog food on the floor
of an experimental room and the dogs were forbidden to take the
food. Then the experimenter either sat in a chair watching the dog
(control condition), sat in a chair facing the dog but with eyes
closed, sat in a chair facing the dog but engaged in a distracting
activity, or sat in a chair facing the wall with the back turned to
the dog. In comparison with the eyes-open condition, dogs
approached the food in a more direct or quicker way and
retrieved more food in the test conditions (Call et al., 2003).
These results provided first evidence that dogs are able to
discriminate at least some attentional states of humans and
respond appropriately.
Our study deviates from Call et al.’s (2003) study in some
aspects that we consider important for finding the true abilities of
dogs’ understanding of attentional states shown by their human
partner. Rather than testing the dogs’ reaction to a completely
unknown person, to whom the dog could not have established any
closer relationship, we tested the dog’s responses to its owner. We
thought that familiarity would enable the dog to use experiences on
how to interpret attention-dependent behavioral cues in its owner
in a quite familiar situation. In contrast, in the “punishment avoid-
ance” game used by Call et al. (2003), the dog could not know
which consequences the verbal command of a strange person
would have. This state of uncertainty was perhaps further strength-
ened by the fact that until the end of the first session and thereafter
in four of five trials, the experimenter did not react contingently to
the dog’s behavior either during the trial or after the trial was
Our decision to exploit the dog– owner relationship for the dog’s
reaction to the different attentional states of humans rests on the
assumption, shared with others (e.g., Topa´l, Miklo´si, & Csa´nyi,
1997), that dogs show their best cognitive performance and their
strongest sensitivity to human attention cues in a highly familiar
situation and with their most familiar human partner. As noted by
Ga´csi, Miklo´si, Varga, Topa´l, & Csa´nyi (2004, p. 152), “situations
used for testing are often ‘caricatures’ of natural situations” and
“frozen gestures are not the best candidates for tackling the exis-
tence of understanding of attention.” Therefore, we created as
much as possible natural testing conditions for the dogs. In contrast
to Call et al. (2003), who tested the dogs in an unfamiliar, quiet,
and sterile testing room, we tested them in their owner’s living
room. And in contrast to Call et al. (2003) seeking to tempt the
dogs by presenting all subjects the same piece of dry dog food,
which is unlikely to be very attractive for all the dogs, we used the
dogs’ favorite food.
Additionally, dogs were only given the command to lie down
without any explicit prohibition of eating the presented food. This
allowed a comparison between food and no-food conditions, with
the latter aimed at testing dogs without any additional stimulus
(food), a situation they often encounter in their everyday lives. To
test for the effects of behavioral cues reflecting the degree of
attention toward the dogs, we asked owners to engage in everyday
activities like reading or watching TV.
Dogs in our study were told to lie down on the floor while their
owner looked at them, read a book, watched TV, turned his or
her back on them, or left the room. We predicted that the dogs
would stand up (or stand up and eat the food in those trials in
which food was used) more often or more quickly the less the
owner was attentive to them. If the dog would discriminate
between all of the different attentional states of the owner, the
dog’s responses should be related to the above sequence of
situations in a stepwise function.
Because the response of the dog in the experiment is likely dependent on
the dogs’ preexperimental obedience-training history, the preexperiences
made in similar situations, their personality (bold vs. shy), and possibly
many more factors, we selected dogs that showed an intermediate level of
obedience in a preexperimental test. To fit the purpose of the experiment,
they should have already learned to obey commands but must not be too
strictly trained, too lazy, or too anxious in the test situation. Therefore, we
selected the experimental subjects from a big sample depending on their
behavior in the first session that we used as a preexperimental test. Only
those dogs that fulfilled two criteria were used in the main experiment: (a)
They obeyed their owner’s command to lie down on the floor and kept
lying there for 1 min in more than half of the trials without food, and (b)
they moved within 1 min and took the food that was placed in front of them
when left alone in the room. In this first session there were four trials
conducted without food (Conditions 1, 2, 3, and 4) and two trials with food
(Conditions 1 and 5) with one of them representing Condition 5 when the
owner left the room and the dog was left alone with the food. Of 41 dogs
tested, 5 dogs were excluded because they failed to meet the first criterion
and 13 dogs because they failed to meet the second criterion. Three other
dogs could not be used any further because their owners did not follow the
instruction not to talk to or feed the dogs during or in between those
selection trials. Thus there were 20 dogs selected to participate in the main
experiment. After finishing the experiment, the first criterion was tested
again to make sure that all dogs were in fact well enough trained to obey
their owner’s commands. Four dogs did not meet the first criterion to obey
the command in more than half of the trials without food and were
subsequently excluded as experimental subjects.
The experimental subjects included in the video and statistical analyses
were 16 domestic dogs (Canis familiaris; 8 female, 8 male; mean age
4.25 years; range 1.25– 8 years). Seven dogs were mongrels, and 9 dogs
were members of seven different breeds. Nine dogs lived together with
their owner since they were puppies, and the others spent most of their lives
with their owners. The age of the 14 female owners and the 1 male owner
(2 dogs had the same owner) ranged from 25 to 64 years. We ascertained
that the owners were the most familiar persons to their dogs, and both dogs
and owners were recruited from dog training schools in Vienna, Austria.
Owners were asked not to feed their dog 2 hr prior to testing.
The experiment was conducted in the living room of the owners’ house
or apartment, where the dog was usually not fed but allowed to take food.
Food that was used in the trials was always the favorite food of each dog.
So it differed between dogs but stayed the same throughout the sessions for
each dog. Each dog was tested by its owner without the experimenter being
present in the room during the experimental tests. We used a video camera
with a wide-angle lens to record the behavior of the dog and its owner
simultaneously. The camera was directed at the face of the dog, with the
food and the owner in line with it. Dogs were allowed to inspect the video
camera and tripod prior to every session to habituate them to the technical
equipment. The experiment was carried out from November 2002 to
February 2003.
The procedure for the experimental tests was as follows. Prior to every
session, which always consisted of six trials, the owner was instructed what
to do or not do using a written instruction. Owners were not allowed to
move, speak, give signs, or react in any other way to the dog’s action
during the trial. They were told to sit on the chair in a relaxed manner and
keep engaged in their activity (reading, watching TV, etc.) no matter what
the dog did. Before the trials started, the owner gave the dog the one and
only verbal command to lie down on the floor. As soon as the dog reliably
obeyed the command, the owner took his or her position and behaved in the
predetermined manner depending on the experimental condition. In those
trials in which food was used, the owner placed the favorite food item at
a distance of 1.5 m from the dog after it obeyed the command. Then the
owner took his or her predetermined position again at a distance of 1.5 m
from the dog. So the distance between dog and owner and dog and food
was always 1.5 m, and it was 3 m between owner and food. While the
owner placed the food on the floor, he or she looked at the dog and took
care that the dog was always attentive and looked in his or her direction.
As soon as the owner had taken his or her position, the trial started.
Between trials there was a short break of 2 min in which the owner was
encouraged to talk to the dog and get the dog up again. If in a food trial the
dog did not eat the food item, the owner removed it in the intertrial interval.
Conditions were chosen to reflect everyday situations, with which the
dog is assumed to be familiar, and with the assumption that attention in
humans is behaviorally expressed especially through three bodily cues: eye
gaze direction, head direction, and body posture. Thus differences in these
three cues should express different and (in the following order) decreasing
degrees of attention (see Table 1).
Condition 1 (look at dog). The owner sat straight on a chair and looked
at the dog without moving his or her body. Eyes, head, and body of the
owner were turned to the dog. The owner watched the dog during the whole
trial and tracked the dog with his or her head and gaze if the dog moved,
thereby signaling high attention. This condition resembles the eyes-open
condition of Call et al. (2003).
Condition 2 (read book). The owner sat on a chair with his or her head
and body turned toward the dog, but the eyes were focusing downward
because he or she was reading a book. The owner read the book during the
whole trial and did not look at the dog at all. This condition resembles the
distracted condition of Call et al. (2003), except that in their experiment the
experimenter was playing a handheld computer game.
Condition 3 (watch TV). The owner sat on a chair and his or her body
was turned toward the dog. Head and eyes were turned away from the dog
in a 90° angle toward a TV monitor. The owner watched TV during the
whole trial and did not look at the dog at all. There was no similar condition
in Call et al. (2003).
Condition 4 (back turned). The owner sat on a chair, and head and
body were facing away from the dog with the back turned to the dog and
the food. The owner kept reading a book during the whole trial and did not
look at the dog at all. This condition resembles the back-turned condition
of Call et al. (2003).
Condition 5 (leave room). The owner left the room immediately with-
out saying anything, closed the door behind him or her, and was out of
sight during the whole trial. This condition resembles the out-forbid
condition of Call et al. (2003).
The order of presentation of conditions was counterbalanced across
sessions. One condition per session was conducted twice, once with and
once without food. Dogs received five sessions to complete the experiment.
Four trials per session were carried out without food and 2 trials per session
were carried out with food, which were conducted on the third and sixth
position in every session. Each trial lasted for 1 min. Thus every dog
received 10 trials with and 20 trials without food. Intervals between
sessions were 2 to 3 weeks to reduce the probability of learning effects.
Table 1
Summary of the Relationship Between Condition and Owner’s
Body Cues
Condition Presence of owner Body Head Eyes
1 ⫹⫹
2 ⫹⫹
3 ⫹⫹
Note. Crosses indicate that the owner was present in a certain condition
and that his or her body, head, or eyes were turned to the dog.
Data Analysis
One of us (Christine Schwab) coded the behavior of the dogs from the
videotapes in seconds for further analysis. Scoring of whether dogs stood
up and took the food did not demand more than one observer because it
could be determined without ambiguity. Analysis of latencies started as
soon as the owner had taken his or her predetermined position and referred
to lying-down behavior of the dogs because this was the only command
they got and were expected to obey. Data were not normally distributed,
and thus we used nonparametric tests (Friedman, Wilcoxon’s, or Mann–
Whitney U tests) to compare conditions. All statistical tests were
A comparison of food trials presented in the third trial with those
presented in the sixth trial in each session shows no significant difference
in the latencies of standing up (Wilcoxon’s test, n 16, Z ⫽⫺1.758, p
.079). It implies that there was no effect of learning throughout the session,
thus we collapsed the data for further analysis. Furthermore, there were no
learning effects throughout the sessions concerning trials without food.
Comparisons of sessions with regard to different conditions did not reveal
any significant differences (Friedman test): Condition 1,
(3, N 16)
6.077, p .108; Condition 2,
(3, N 16) 0.259, p .968; Condition
(3, N 16) 0.682, p .877; Condition 4,
(3, N 16) 2.607,
p .456; and Condition 5,
(3, N 16) 6.314, p .097.
Figure 1 shows the proportion of trials in which the dogs obeyed
the command for the whole 60 s of the trials. In trials in which no
food was presented (Figure 1a), the proportion of trials in which
the dogs obeyed the command to lie down decreases from Condi-
tion 1 to 5. However, these differences were not significant across
conditions (Friedman test),
(4, N 16) 7.021, p .135.
In trials with food (Figure 1b), there was a significant difference
across conditions (Friedman test),
(4, N 16) 19.652, p
.001, which was based on Condition 5 that differed significantly
from Condition 1 (n 9, Z ⫽⫺2.373, p .018) insofar as when
the owner left the room the dogs stood up more often than when
being watched.
With regard to latencies, comparisons across conditions showed
significant differences in both conditions: trials without food,
(4, N 16) 9.832, p .043; trials with food,
(4, N 16)
15.529, p .004. In trials without food (see Figure 2a), dogs stood
up significantly quicker when the owner left the room than when
it was being watched (see Table 2). But when the owner turned his
or her back on them, the dogs also stood up significantly quicker
than in Condition 1 when the owner looked at them and signaled
highest attention (Table 2). As in trials without food, in trials with
food (Figure 2b), the latency for disobeying the lying-down com-
mand was significantly shorter in Condition 5 than in Condition 1
(Table 2).
In trials with food, the motivation of dogs to stand up (and then
take the food) was overall much higher than in trials without food.
They stood up (and then took the food, respectively) both more
often (with the exception of Condition 2) and more quickly in trials
in which food was used than when it was not (see Table 3).
It is worth noting that despite being strongly motivated by their
favorite food, the dogs obeyed the command to lie down in 41.25%
of all food trials, and they remained lying down the whole 60 s of
the trial. Therefore, to achieve a more sensitive comparison be-
tween conditions, we reanalyzed the data by considering only
those trials in which the dog disobeyed the command and ate the
food (see Figure 3; consumption trials). With this restriction, dogs
stood up significantly quicker when the owner read a book or
watched TV than when the owner looked at the dog (see Table 2).
There was no significant difference in performance between the
sexes in any of the conditions.
Taken together, the results corroborate those of Call et al. (2003)
by providing additional and to some extent complementary evi-
dence that dogs are able to discriminate attentional states in hu-
mans. Our results are comparable because in both studies dogs
Figure 1. Proportion of trials (a) without and (b) with food in which the dogs obeyed the command. The
figure shows percentage of trials in which they stayed lying down for the whole 60 s of the trial. The box
represents the interquartile range, which contains 50% of the values, and the bold lines indicate the median.
The error bars extend from the box to the highest and lowest values, excluding outliers, which are indicated
by black dots. *p .05.
showed they were sensitive to the attentional states of humans
when required to obey a command given by them. In both studies
the dogs disobeyed the human’s command more readily when the
human left the room than when he or she sat on a chair watching
them. In our study, this was the case in two types of trials, in those
with and those without food, because the dogs stood up more often
or more quickly when their owner left the room than when they
were watched. But also in trials without food of the back-turned
condition (Condition 4), which has no equivalent in Call et al.’s
(2003) study because they conducted their study with food, the
dogs stood up more quickly than when being watched. In addition,
with the temptation of their favorite food in front of them and in
cases when the dogs stood up and ate it, they did it more quickly
when the owner read a book or watched TV than when being
watched. This indicates that the dogs in our study responded
according to the different attentional states of their owners, cor-
roborating similar results of other dog studies, which we discuss in
the following.
Leaving the room seems to have a different quality than just
giving the least quantitative level of attention. Hare et al. (1998)
showed that being physically present is the first prerequisite for
communication. In their study dogs had to draw the attention of
a human to a location where food was hidden that the dogs
themselves could not reach. One of the dogs’ behaviors were
vocalizations they only produced if a human was present (Hare
et al., 1998). Discriminating front and back of humans was
tested by a human throwing a ball the dog should fetch, with the
restriction that the ball will only be thrown again if the dog
placed it inside the visual field of the human (Hare et al., 1998).
If the humans turned their back on the returning dogs, the latter
walked around and dropped the ball or, in very few trials, stayed
in front of the humans’ back side but then started to bark to get
the humans’ attention (Hare et al., 1998). This suggests that
dogs realize the asymmetry of humans’ front and back side and
understand the meaning of a human’s back as showing low attention
by the human.
Figure 2. Time (in seconds) until standing up in trials (a) without and (b) with food. The figure shows mean
duration of time dogs obeyed the command to lie down. The box represents the interquartile range, which
contains 50% of the values, and the bold lines indicate the median. The error bars extend from the box to the
highest and lowest values, excluding outliers, which are indicated by black dots. *p .05.
Table 2
Summary of Results Concerning Comparisons of Latencies Between Condition 1 and All Other
Without food With food Consumption
nZ pnZ pnZ p
2100.868 .386 10 0.051 .959 9 2.134 .033
3100.357 .721 12 1.059 .289 7 2.366 .018
4 11 2.179 .029 12 1.138 .255 10 1.173 .241
5 13 2.271 .023 16 3.051 .002 10 1.172 .241
Note. Results are given for trials without and with food and for consumption trials in which the dogs stood up
before the 60 s of the trials elapsed. All given results are from Wilcoxon’s tests and are two-tailed. Bold results
indicate significant differences between the given condition and Condition 1.
Significant results of facing versus back turning to returning
dogs were also found by Ga´csi et al. (2004), indicating that the
ability to discriminate these two bodily orientations of humans can
serve as a basis to recognize attention. Our results from the
back-turned condition provide additional support for the dog’s
ability to judge a human’s back as showing low attention by the
When the owner was reading a book or watching TV, thereby
turning the body toward the dog but only head or eyes away, we
assumed a stronger temptation for the dogs to disobey the com-
mand than when it was being watched. In fact, when they stood up
facing their favorite food, they showed shorter latencies in these
two conditions than in the looking condition (see Figure 3).
Giving, processing, understanding, and using cues are probably
context dependent. This, we believe, could explain some of the
differences found between the study by Call et al. (2003) and the
present one. In both studies the special feature of eye contact
resulted in dogs obeying the given command most often or for the
longest time. However, concerning the results of the food trials,
there are interesting deviations from Call et al.’s (2003) study. In
their study the dogs took more food pieces in all experimental
conditions than when being watched, but they took them more
quickly only in the eyes-closed condition, which has no equivalent
in the present study, but not when the experimenter played a
handheld computer or turned her back to the dog. In contrast, the
dogs in our study did not show significantly different numbers in
the frequencies of taking the food, except when the owner left the
room, but the dogs took the food more quickly in the read book and
watch TV conditions, with the former being equivalent to the
distracted condition in Call et al.’s (2003) study. These differences
might be explained by the experimental context. In the present
study every dog got its favorite food and had to lie down on the
floor. They were tested in the owners’ apartment, and during the
experiment the only human present was their owner and most
familiar person. All relationships between humans and dogs in this
study were determined by friendliness and familiarity, so it can be
assumed that the dogs were not afraid of their owners. They have
probably learned throughout their ontogeny that obeying a com-
mand is desired by their owners but that disobedience will not be
punished severely. In contrast, the dogs of Call et al.’s (2003)
study could not know the reaction of a stranger if they failed to
obey. Probably those dogs did not dare to take the food as often as
in the present study, especially in Condition 1 (or in the forbid or
eyes-open condition in Call et al.’s, 2003, study). So influences on
these results might have arisen from the unfamiliar versus familiar
experimental setting and the use of the same dry dog food versus
the favorite food of each dog contributing to the less frequent
taking of food in Call et al.’s (2003) study.
For both studies it also seems plausible that dogs used experi-
ences they have made throughout their lives to judge the atten-
tional state of the humans involved. If one takes into account that
for an understanding of attention, an individual “may learn many
additional things about the relation of their group mates’ visual
access to objects in the environment and its implications for their
(their group mates’) subsequent behavior” (Hare, Call, Agnetta, &
Tomasello, 2000, p. 784), also learning experiences are likely to
play an important role in making a connection between visual
access and behavior of others in different social contexts. Dogs
have probably experienced situations with humans turning away
their head or eyes or turning their back on the dogs, and the dogs
could have learned that in those situations the human hardly
noticed an undesirable behavior of the dog. In other words, they
could have learned that with this constellation of observable char-
Figure 3. Time (in seconds) until standing up in consumption trials. Only
those trials with food were considered in which the dogs stood up before
60 s of the trials elapsed. The figure shows mean duration of time dogs
obeyed the command to lie down. The box represents the interquartile
range, which contains 50% of the values, and the bold lines indicate the
median. The error bars extend from the box to the highest and lowest
values, excluding outliers, which are indicated by black dots. *p .05.
Table 3
Comparison of Conditions With and Without Food Concerning Proportion of Trials in Which the
Dogs Obeyed the Command (Frequency) and Time Until Standing Up (Latency)
Frequency Latency
nZ pnZ p
1122.565 .01 12 2.353 .019
2111.841 .066 12 2.589 .01
3132.229 .026 14 2.542 .011
4142.127 .033 14 2.103 .035
5132.727 .006 16 2.999 .003
Note. All given results are from Wilcoxon tests and are two-tailed. Bold results indicate significant differences.
acteristics there are less consequences if they do not obey a
command. Naturally, these experiences could be increased through
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turning the mind to something, this often involves turning the
body, head, and especially the eyes to something (Go´mez, 1991).
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Boysen, 1990), mental states like attention are characterized by
overt signals (Sce´rif et al., 2004) and are directly perceivable in
behavioral cues (Baron-Cohen, 1991). Dogs have been shown to
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and eye orientation of their owners and by adapting their behavior
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Received July 28, 2005
Revision received December 30, 2005
Accepted January 31, 2006
... By constantly monitoring humans, especially their caregiver(s), they not only perceive what they are currently doing, but infer what they are interested in and are doing next. They spontaneously focus attention on informative objects, such as eyes (Somppi et al. 2012(Somppi et al. , 2014, discriminate our emotions (Albuquerque et al. 2016;Müller et al. 2015), and are sensitive to human attentional states (Call et al. 2003;Mongillo et al. 2010;Schwab and Huber 2006;Virányi et al. 2004) from puppy age on (Gácsi et al. 2005). Some have therefore argued that success in perspective-taking tasks might be based on associations formed during the experiment or in earlier life or simply on reading others' behaviour and acting on the basis of that information (Penn and Povinelli 2007;Roberts and Macpherson 2011;). ...
... Several studies have now shown that dogs are sensitive to behavioural and environmental cues that are associated with others' seeing and paying attention: (i) they steal prohibited food more often when humans are distracted, absent, close their eyes, or turn their back to the dog compared to when humans are looking at the dogs intently (Bräuer et al. 2004;Call et al. 2003;Kiss and Topál 2019;Kundey et al. 2012;Schwab and Huber 2006); (ii) they discriminate between attentive and inattentive humans based on orientation of head, body, and visibility of the eyes while playing fetch, obeying commands, and begging for food ); (iii) they obey a command more promptly if the human is facing them than when the human orients into distant space, faces a second person (Virányi et al. 2004) or turns her back to them (Bryant et al. 2018;MacLean et al. 2014); (iv) they follow the pointing gestures of a forward-facing experimenter more often than those of an experimenter whose back was turned (MacLean et al. 2014); ...
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An important question in the study of canine cognition is how dogs understand humans, given that they show impressive abilities for interacting and communicating with us. In this review, we describe and discuss studies that have investigated dogs’ perspective-taking abilities. There is solid evidence that dogs are not only sensitive to the gaze of others, but also their attention. We specifically address the question whether dogs have the ability to take the perspective of others and thus come to understand what others can or cannot perceive. From the latter, they may then infer what others know and use this representation to anticipate what others do next. Still, dogs might simply rely on directly observable cues and on what they themselves can perceive when they assess what others can perceive. And instead of making inferences from representations of others' mental states, they may have just learned that certain behaviours of ours lead to certain outcomes. However, recent research seems to challenge this low-level explanation. Dogs have solved several perspective-taking tasks instantly and reliably across a large number of variations, including geometrical gaze-following, stealing in the dark, concealing information from others, and Guesser/Knower differentiation. In the latter studies, dogs' choices between two human informants were strongly influenced by cues related to the humans’ visual access to the food, even when the two informants behaved identically. And finally, we review a recent study that found dogs reacting differently to misleading suggestions of human informants that have either a true or false belief about the location of food. We discuss this surprising result in terms of the comprehension of reality-incongruent mental states, which is considered as a hallmark of Theory of Mind acquisition in human development. Especially on the basis of the latter findings, we conclude that pet dogs might be sensitive to what others see, know, intend, and believe. Therefore, this ability seems to have evolved not just in the corvid and primate lineages, but also in dogs.
... Perhaps then, whilst not relevant in nature, these dolphins may have learned to use human eyes as a cue reflecting their attentional state in order to accurately interpret and perform various behaviours commanded by their trainers for rewards. In fact, other species with comparable training relationships with humans, such as dogs and horses, have also shown evidence for a sensitivity towards human attentional states [56][57][58][59][60][61][62] . This has been argued to be an innate ability facilitated by selective pressures involved in domestication 57 , or instead (although not mutually exclusive) due to learning from repeated experiences with humans over years of training. ...
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The ability to attribute attentional states to other individuals is a highly adaptive socio-cognitive skill and thus may have evolved in many social species. However, whilst humans excel in this ability, even chimpanzees appear to not accurately understand how visual attention works, particularly in regard to the function of eyes. The complex socio-ecological background and socio-cognitive skill-set of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.), alongside the specialised training that captive dolphins typically undergo, make them an especially relevant candidate for an investigation into their sensitivity to human attentional states. Therefore, we tested 8 bottlenose dolphins on an object retrieval task. The dolphins were instructed to fetch an object by a trainer under various attentional state conditions involving the trainer’s eyes and face orientation: ‘not looking’, ‘half looking’, ‘eyes open’, and ‘eyes closed’. As the dolphins showed an increased latency to retrieve the object in conditions where the trainer’s head and eyes cued a lack of attention to the dolphin, particularly when comparing ‘eyes open’ vs ‘eyes closed’ conditions, we demonstrate that dolphins can be sensitive to human attentional features, namely the functionality of eyes. This study supports growing evidence that dolphins possess highly complex cognitive abilities, particularly those in the social domain.
... By monitoring human faces, dogs obtain a flow of social information, including communicative cues and emotional and attentive states. Looking at human faces also gives them the ability to differentiate between humans, recognize familiar individuals, or even generate an internal representation of their owner's face [23][24][25][26][27][28][29]. Regarding vocal communication, dogs are more attentive when humans talk to them using dog-directed speech, a register resembling "baby talk" [30][31][32]. ...
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Across all species, communication implies that an emitter sends signals to a receiver, through one or more channels. Cats can integrate visual and auditory signals sent by humans and modulate their behaviour according to the valence of the emotion perceived. However, the specific patterns and channels governing cat-to-human communication are poorly understood. This study addresses whether, in an extraspecific interaction, cats are sensitive to the communication channel used by their human interlocutor. We examined three types of interactions—vocal, visual, and bimodal—by coding video clips of 12 cats living in cat cafés. In a fourth (control) condition, the human interlocutor refrained from emitting any communication signal. We found that the modality of communication had a significant effect on the latency in the time taken for cats to approach the human experimenter. Cats interacted significantly faster to visual and bimodal communication compared to the “no communication” pattern, as well as to vocal communication. In addition, communication modality had a significant effect on tail-wagging behaviour. Cats displayed significantly more tail wagging when the experimenter engaged in no communication (control condition) compared to visual and bimodal communication modes, indicating that they were less comfortable in this control condition. Cats also displayed more tail wagging in response to vocal communication compared to the bimodal communication. Overall, our data suggest that cats display a marked preference for both visual and bimodal cues addressed by non-familiar humans compared to vocal cues only. Results arising from the present study may serve as a basis for practical recommendations to navigate the codes of human–cat interactions.
... Faces are an important visual category for many taxa because they differ in subtle ways and possess many idiosyncratic features, thus providing a rich source of information (Leopold & Rhodes, 2010). The human face allows dogs to interact and communicate with their caregiver, for instance, by obtaining information signaled through communicative gestures (Téglás et al., 2012) as well as attentive states (Gacsi et al., 2004;Schwab & Huber, 2006) and emotional states (Müller et al., 2015). ...
... Sahibinin verdiği komutlara en çok ve en uzun itaat ettikleri durumlar sahibinin dikkatinin ve gözlerinin kendi üzerinde olduğu durumlardır. Aksi takdirde sahibinin kitap okuma, arkasını dönme, odadan çıkma gibi durumlarında komutlara çok fazla uymadıkları gözlenmiştir (Call vd., 2003;Gacsi vd., 2004;Schwab & Huber, 2006;Viranyi vd., 2004). Köpeğin sadece sahibine değil, tanıdık olduğu başka insanlara da bunu genelleyebilmesi zihin kuramını anlamak açısından yol göstermektedir. ...
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Zihin kuramı başka insanların zihinsel durumlarını anlayarak davranışlarını tahmin edebilme becerisidir. İnsanlarda okul öncesi dönemde geliştiği düşünülen bu beceri birçok hayvan çalışmasına konu olmuş fakat net bulgulara rastlanmamıştır. Bu durum benzer evrimsel hikâyeye ve sosyal-bilişsel yapılara sahip büyük maymun ve insanlar arasındaki farkın zihin kuramından kaynaklı olabileceğini düşündürmektedir. Bu çalışmada zihin kuramının nasıl oluştuğuna ve geliştiğine dair bulgular ve fikirler derlenerek insan-hayvan farkının zihin kuramına da sebep olabilecek temellerini araştırmak amaçlanmıştır. Yapılan araştırmalar diğer önemli bir fark olan dil becerisinin zihin kuramını yordadığını göstermektedir. Dilin topluma katılımı sağlamaya yardımcı olması ve sosyal bir varlık olan insanın çevreyle etkileşimi diğer insanların zihinsel durumlarını tahmin edebilmenin yolunu açmış olabilir. Sosyal çevreyle iletişim aynı zamanda bilgi aktarımı ve öğrenmeyi içermektedir. Bu derleme çalışmasında da öğrenme tipinin, sosyal çevre ve dil ile birlikte karmaşık bir bilişsel ve sosyal yapıya evrilerek modern insanı hayvanlardan farklı kılabileceği fikriyle alanyazına katkı sağlamak amaçlanmaktadır.
... The fact that, in return, cats show a greater reaction when their humans specifically address them, brings a new dimension to previous considerations of this reciprocal relationship. (Adachi et al. 2007;Call et al. 2003;Gácsi et al. 2004;Miklósi et al. 1998;Racca et al. 2010;Schwab & Huber 2006;Soproni et al. 2001). ...
Dans une société où les animaux compagnons sont intégrés au cercle familial, beaucoup d’humains les considèrent comme des membres de la famille à part entière. La recherche doit suivre cette tendance et s’attacher à appréhender les mécanismes de relations qui se construisent entre différentes espèces amenées à cohabiter. L’objectif de cette thèse est d’enrichir et d’approfondir les connaissances scientifiques sur l’éthologie du chat compagnon (Felis catus), afin de mieux appréhender ses besoins et réponses comportementales, au sein d’un environnement souvent imposé par l’humain. Les travaux restitués sont principalement centrés sur la communication interspécifique entre l’humain et le chat. Soucieux d’explorer aussi bien la perspective de l’humain que celle du chat, nous avons étudié la façon dont chacun s’exprime et décode les messages de l’autre. Ainsi, nous nous sommes intéressés à la communication vocale et visuelle entre ces deux espèces différentes qui partagent un même milieu - et doivent apprendre à communiquer efficacement pour cohabiter sereinement. Nos études ont mis en évidence que les humains utilisaient un discours spécifique pour s’adresser à leur compagnons félins, caractérisé par l’utilisation d’une voix plus aiguë. Nous avons également rapporté que les chats étaient plus attentifs à ce type de discours, mais seulement lorsqu’il était prononcé par leur compagnon humain et non par un étranger. Dans une troisième étude, nous avons observé que les chats venaient plus volontiers au contact d’un humain peu familier si celui-ci proposait un contact bimodal ou visuel, plutôt que vocal. Enfin, nous avons vu que les humains comprenaient mieux les chats dans leurs expressions bimodales et visuelles que vocales. Ainsi, bien que communément utilisée par chaque émetteur de cette communication interspécifique, la modalité vocale ne semble pas être suffisante pour la transmission et la réception d’un signal clair. Ces résultats sont discutés à la lumière des notions d’attachement, d’anthropomorphisme et de bien-être animal.
... Considering these deep social and emotional connections between humans and dogs, the ability to read emotional signals appears essential to facilitate social interactions. Working breeds such as herding or hunting dogs have probably been selected for their understanding of human communicative signals (Schwab and Huber, 2006). It seems reasonable to assume that humans are also skilled decoders of dog's emotions from their facial expressions. ...
Our primary goal was to investigate human ability to recognize basic emotions from only the eyes of dogs in comparison to the whole face. Simultaneously, we replicated and extended previous research (Bloom et al., 2021), while validating American canine emotional facial expression photographs cross-culturally to Brazil. Participants (N=120) viewed behaviorally-anchored photographs of three breeds. Half the participants in each condition (faces or eyes-only) viewed two-word forced choice items while the other half viewed four-word forced choice items. Participants identified target emotions from images of both dogs’ faces and eyes-only at a higher rate than chance. Fear was accurately recognized more than the other emotions. When dogs are afraid, they open their eyes and expose the sclera, a conspicuous signal. Emotion identification accuracy was highest for the Rhodesian Ridgeback, who is similar in morphology to common Brazilian stray dogs (Vira-Latas Carmelo). We conjectured that Brazilians were more accustomed to seeing dogs with the Rhodesian Ridgeback morphology than the erect-eared breeds, thus increasing accuracy for this breed. Further studies with additional dog morphologies are desirable. In addition to research interest, our Canine Eyes task has the potential to become a test of individual differences in Theory of Mind with clinical applications.
In this chapter, we review studies comparing the social learning and cooperative abilities of wolves and dogs, both with conspecifics and humans. As regards social learning, their performance is similar in basic tasks involving local enhancement and observational memory. But when it comes to paying attention to the exact details of a demonstration and imitating a specific action, wolves clearly outperform dogs. Whether these differences stem from differences in cognitive abilities or rather from differences in general purpose mechanisms such as attention, working memory, inhibition or motivation still needs to be explored. As regards cooperation, the studies reviewed show that wolves and dogs share with us at least some of the abilities that seem to be important for cooperation: they show some prosocial tendencies, are inequity averse, can coordinate their actions with conspecific partners, and have a basic understanding of the role of their partner in cooperative interactions. However, the studies show that while wolves cooperate successfully with conspecifics as well as with human partners, dogs only succeeded with humans. This suggests that the dogs’ failure to cooperate with conspecifics is not due to cognitive limitations but rather due to limited tolerance towards each other in feeding contexts. While both species cooperate with humans, their behaviour revealed some remarkable differences suggesting that wolves rather lead (and perhaps just expect humans to follow), whereas dogs are more inclined to wait for the human partners to take the initiative and then follow their lead.
Canine behavior has been studied for decades, but not until 1998 was it discovered that dogs have human-like cooperative communication skills that rival those of even our closest primate relatives. Ever since, canines have become subjects of increased research into the genetic underpinnings of these abilities. Here, we posit that domestication has been a driving force in the evolution of dog cognition. The latest technological advances have been instrumental in allowing us to have a better understanding of the impact of domestication on the canine genome, as well as the role that genetics play in dog behavior and cognition. Finally, we explore the ways this knowledge can be applied to better the lives of dogs and that of their human companions.
Our relationship with dogs runs thousands of years deep. Today, we might know dogs intimately as members of our human family, but we can also know and consider dogs on their own terms, as members of Canis familiaris , with a unique evolutionary history and species‐specific characteristics and needs. This chapter is a resource for all types of dog knowers and caretakers. It relies heavily on empirical research to anchor readers in the foundations of canine behavior—such as dog behavioral development, normal dog behavior, factors influencing behavior, and relationships with people—and considers how these topics affect dogs of all ages and backgrounds who find themselves in the shelter environment.
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Since the observations of O. Pfungst the use of human-provided cues by animals has been well-known in the behavioural sciences ("Clever Hans effect"). It has recently been shown that rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) are unable to use the direction of gazing by the experimenter as a cue for finding food, although after some training they learned to respond to pointing by hand. Direction of gaze is used by chimpanzees, however. Dogs (Canis familiaris) are believed to be sensitive to human gestural communication but their ability has never been formally tested. In three experiments we examined whether dogs can respond to cues given by humans. We found that dogs are able to utilize pointing, bowing, nodding, head-turning and glancing gestures of humans as cues for finding hidden food. Dogs were also able to generalize from one person (owner) to another familiar person (experimenter) in using the same gestures as cues. Baseline trials were run to test the possibility that odour cues alone could be responsible for the dogs' performance. During training individual performance showed limited variability, probably because some dogs already "knew" some of the cues from their earlier experiences with humans. We suggest that the phenomenon of dogs responding to cues given by humans is better analysed as a case of interspecific communication than in terms of discrimination learning.
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Many primate species reliably track and follow the visual gaze of conspecifics and humans, even to locations above and behind the subject. However, it is not clear whether primates follow a human's gaze to find hidden food under one of two containers in an object-choice task. In a series of experiments six adult female chimpanzees followed a human's gaze (head and eye direction) to a distal location in space above and behind them, and checked back to the human's face when they did not find anything interesting or unusual. This study also assessed whether these same subjects would also use the human's gaze in an object-choice task with three types of occluders: barriers, tubes, and bowls. Barriers and tubes permitted the experimenter to see their contents (i.e., food) whereas bowls did not. Chimpanzees used the human's gaze direction to choose the tube or barrier containing food but they did not use the human's gaze to decide between bowls. Our findings allowed us to discard both simple orientation and understanding seeing-knowing in others as the explanations for gaze following in chimpanzees. However, they did not allow us to conclusively choose between orientation combined with foraging tendencies and understanding seeing in others. One interesting possibility raised by these results is that studies in which the human cannot see the reward at the time of subject choice may potentially be underestimating chimpanzees' social knowledge.
Black iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) are eaten by humans and other predators throughout Central America. The importance of a human face to the avoidance and fleeing behavior of black iguanas was examined using an approaching person as the stimulus. Iguanas were exposed to an approaching person either with an exposed face or with the face covered with hair. In the latter case the iguanas received the conflicting stimuli of a person both approaching, yet appearing to retreat. Iguanas moved earlier, ran earlier, and ran farther when the approaching person had an exposed face compared to a face hidden by hair. For iguanas exposed to a face there were significant correlations between the escape behaviors; iguanas that moved and ran earlier also ran farther. However, for iguanas exposed to the hair there were no significant correlations among escape behaviors.
Black iguana are eaten by human and other predators in Costa Rica. The importance of eye size on avoidance and recovery behaviour of black iguana was examined using an approaching person as the stimulus. Iguanas moved and ran earlier when the approaching person wore a large eye mask than when she wore a smaller eye mask. Iguana response did not vary during the tests as a function of snoutvent length, but response variables were generally correlated. Black iguana clearly moved and ran earlier in response to a large compared with a small eye, indicating they perceive and monitor this feature of predators.
The behavioral effects of exposure to uncontrollable events include motivational, associative, physiological, and attentional components. The learned helplessness hypothesis states that exposure to uncontrollable events results in an organism learning that its behavior and the outcomes of its behavior are independent. Research has indicated that the manner in which subjects exposed to uncontrollable events process information, and subsequently how they respond, is skewed, with a disposition to focus attention on external, rather than internal, relevant and irrelevant cues. The experiment was designed to determine if the alteration in attentional processing generalized across species and on an unlearned behavior, tonic immobility (TI). Subjects were pretreated in one of the components of a learned helplessness triadic design and tested under varying external conditions that have been shown to modify the TI response. Exposure to uncontrollable events directly modified the duration of TI. Additionally, exposure to uncontrollable events directly influenced the effect of external stimuli on measures of TI. The results indicate that the attentional bias caused by exposure to uncontrollable events can be generalized to other non-rodent species, and that this attentional bias influences both learned and unlearned behaviors.
Two domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) participated in a series of studies in which they communicated with a human about the location of hidden food. In the first study both dogs were able to follow human pointing reliably to one of several locations where food was hidden, both in front of them and behind them. They also showed some skills at following human gaze direction in this same task, when both head and eyes indicated the same location. They did not follow eye direction when it conflicted with head direction. A second study clearly ruled out a low-level visual tracking explanation for at least one of the subjects. In a third study one of the two dogs was able to lead a naive human to one of three locations containing food consistently, mainly by barking and orienting its body to the food. The subject did not behave differently, however, when the human turned his back or covered his eyes; he continued to orient to the food and bark under all conditions. In a fourth study in which more clearly visual signals were involved, both subjects strongly preferred to drop a retrieved object at the front of, rather than at the back of, the human — even when the human turned his back so that subjects had to bring the object around his body upon return. The knowledge of human pointing and gaze direction displayed by these two domestic dogs is in many ways comparable to that displayed in experimental studies by nonhuman primates.
consider some new evidence of joint attention-deficits in autism, and explore the possibility that a critical precursor in the development of a theory of mind lies in the infants' understanding of attention in others (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Examined the ability of basking black iguanas ( Ctenosaura similis) to discriminate risk from a person walking directly toward them vs one walking tangentially by them when the person looked either directly at them or away from them. All iguanas were tested near the Organization for Tropical Studies Palo Verde, Costa Rica field station or the refuge hacienda, where they were habituated to the presence of humans. The animals responded most quickly to a direct approach with a direct gaze, followed by a direct approach with an averted gaze and a tangential approach with a direct gaze, and least quickly to a tangential approach with an averted gaze. Behavioral responses were not related to body size but were intercorrelated. These results demonstrate that iguanas can use both body orientation and gaze direction to assess the threat of an approaching predator. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)