Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 13–26 | Cite as

A nonverbal test of knowledge attribution: a comparative study on dogs and children

  • Zs. Virányi
  • J. Topál
  • Á. Miklósi
  • V. Csányi
Original Article


The sensitivity of eleven pet dogs and eleven 2.5-year-old children to others’ past perceptual access was tested for object-specificity in a playful, nonverbal task in which a human Helper’s knowledge state regarding the whereabouts of a hidden toy and a stick (a tool necessary for getting the out-of-reach toy) was systematically manipulated. In the four experimental conditions the Helper either participated or was absent during hiding of the toy and the stick and therefore she knew the place(s) of (1) both the toy and the stick, (2) only the toy, (3) only the stick or (4) neither of them. The subjects observed the hiding processes, but they could not reach the objects, so they had to involve the Helper to retrieve the toy. The dogs were more inclined to signal the place of the toy in each condition and indicated the location of the stick only sporadically. However the children signalled both the location of the toy and that of the stick in those situations when the Helper had similar knowledge regarding the whereabouts of them (i.e. knew or ignored both of them), and in those conditions in which the Helper was ignorant of the whereabouts of only one object the children indicated the place of this object more often than that of the known one. At the same time however, both dogs and children signalled the place of the toy more frequently if the Helper had been absent during toy-hiding compared to those conditions when she had participated in the hiding. Although this behaviour appears to correspond with the Helper’s knowledge state, even the subtle distinction made by the children can be interpreted without a casual understanding of knowledge-formation in others.


Dog Child Knowledge-attribution Theory of mind 



This study was supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (F01031) and an OTKA grant (T029705). This research complies with the current Hungarian laws on animal protection.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zs. Virányi
    • 1
  • J. Topál
    • 2
  • Á. Miklósi
    • 1
  • V. Csányi
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EthologyELTE University BudapestHungary
  2. 2.Comparative Ethology Research GroupHungarian Academy of SciencesHungary

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