Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 27–35 | Cite as

Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) use a physical marker to locate hidden food

  • Julia Riedel
  • David Buttelmann
  • Josep Call
  • Michael Tomasello
Original Article


Dogs can use the placement of an arbitrary marker to locate hidden food in an object-choice situation. We tested domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) in three studies aimed at pinning down the relative contributions of the human’s hand and the marker itself. We baited one of two cups (outside of the dogs’ view) and gave the dog a communicative cue to find the food. Study 1 systematically varied dogs’ perceptual access to the marker placing event, so that dogs saw either the whole human, the hand only, the marker only, or nothing. Follow-up trials investigated the effect of removing the marker before the dog’s choice. Dogs used the marker as a communicative cue even when it had been removed prior to the dog’s choice and attached more importance to this cue than to the hand that placed it although the presence of the hand boosted performance when it appeared together with the marker. Study 2 directly contrasted the importance of the hand and the marker and revealed that the effect of the marker diminished if it had been associated with both cups. In contrast touching both cups with the hand had no effect on performance. Study 3 investigated whether the means of marker placement (intentional or accidental) had an effect on dogs’ choices. Results showed that dogs did not differentiate intentional and accidental placing of the marker. These results suggest that dogs use the marker as a genuine communicative cue quite independently from the experimenter’s actions.


Dogs Social cognition Object choice task Human communicative cues 



The authors wish to thank Paul Harris for the basics of the idea for study 2 and we also thank the dog owners for their co-operation. The reported experiments comply with all laws of the country (Germany) in which they were performed


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Riedel
    • 1
  • David Buttelmann
    • 1
  • Josep Call
    • 1
  • Michael Tomasello
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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