Cues to food location that domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) of different ages do and do not use
The results of three experiments are reported. In the main study, a human experimenter presented domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) with a variety of social cues intended to indicate the location of hidden food. The novel findings of this study were: (1) dogs were able to use successfully several totally novel cues in which they watched a human place a marker in front of the target location; (2) dogs were unable to use the marker by itself with no behavioral cues (suggesting that some form of human behavior directed to the target location was a necessary part of the cue); and (3) there were no significant developments in dogs’ skills in these tasks across the age range 4 months to 4 years (arguing against the necessity of extensive learning experiences with humans). In a follow-up study, dogs did not follow human gaze into “empty space” outside of the simulated foraging context. Finally, in a small pilot study, two arctic wolves (Canis lupus) were unable to use human cues to locate hidden food. These results suggest the possibility that domestic dogs have evolved an adaptive specialization for using human-produced directional cues in a goal-directed (especially foraging) context. Exactly how they understand these cues is still an open question.