, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 621-631

A comparative approach to dogs’ (Canis familiaris) and human infants’ comprehension of various forms of pointing gestures

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Abstract

We investigated whether dogs and 2-, and 3-year-old human infants living, in some respects, in very similar social environments are able to comprehend various forms of the human pointing gesture. In the first study, we looked at their ability to comprehend different arm pointing gestures (long cross-pointing, forward cross-pointing and elbow cross-pointing) to locate a hidden object. Three-year-olds successfully used all gestures as directional cues, while younger children and dogs could not understand the elbow cross-pointing. Dogs were also unsuccessful with the forward cross-pointing. In the second study, we used unfamiliar pointing gestures i.e. using a leg as indicator (pointing with leg, leg cross-pointing, pointing with knee). All subjects were successful with leg pointing gestures, but only older children were able to comprehend the pointing with knee. We suggest that 3-year-old children are able to rely on the direction of the index finger, and show the strongest ability to generalize to unfamiliar gestures. Although some capacity to generalize is also evident in younger children and dogs, especially the latter appear biased in the use of protruding body parts as directional signals.