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Social cognition in domestic dogs

- An investigation of dogs' understanding of humans' visual perspective


Domestic dogs have been shown to outperform various animal species in reading human communicative signals. The cognitive foundation underlying this skill has, however, not yet been identified. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the question if dogs' social skills go beyond behavioural cue reading and involves an understanding of the visual perspective and communicative intention of the human.

The first study was based on a study, showing that human children, even as young as 12 months of age, know what others have and have not seen. The results showed that in contrast to children dogs did not seem to have this ability. However, in order to be successful, the dogs were not only required to understand that the experimenter had not seen one toy because she was not present when it was presented, but also to have understanding of the human excitement referring to a new toy. The results therefore do not allow us to determine which of the two skills dogs are lacking.

The second study was based on a variation of the gaze following paradigm and investigated dogs’ ability to follow human gaze to an object located behind a barrier i.e. outside of the dogs’ own visual field. The analysis of the first choice in the first trial indicated that the test dogs possessed this ability. However, since these results do not quite reach significance, they must be treated with caution until a larger number of dogs have been tested.

In conclusion, the combined results suggest that dogs seem to understand what a human is looking at in the given moment but not what she has seen in the immediate past.  

Responsible for this page: Agneta Johansson
Last updated: 05/30/06