Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 65–73 | Cite as

‘Goats that stare at men’: dwarf goats alter their behaviour in response to human head orientation, but do not spontaneously use head direction as a cue in a food-related context

  • Christian Nawroth
  • Eberhard von Borell
  • Jan LangbeinEmail author
Original Paper


Recently, comparative research on the mechanisms and species-specific adaptive values of attributing attentive states and using communicative cues has gained increased interest, particularly in non-human primates, birds, and dogs. Here, we investigate these phenomena in a farm animal species, the dwarf goat (Capra aegagrus hircus). In the first experiment, we investigated the effects of different human head and body orientations, as well as human experimenter presence/absence, on the behaviour of goats in a food-anticipating paradigm. Over a 30-s interval, the experimenter engaged in one of four different postures or behaviours (head and body towards the subject—'Control', head to the side, head and body away from the subject, or leaving the room) before delivering a reward. We found that the level of subjects’ active anticipatory behaviour was highest in the control condition and decreased with a decreasing level of attention paid to the subject by the experimenter. Additionally, goats ‘stared’ (i.e. stood alert) at the experimental set-up for significantly more time when the experimenter was present but paid less attention to the subject (‘Head’ and ‘Back’ condition) than in the ‘Control’ and ‘Out’ conditions. In a second experiment, the experimenter provided different human-given cues that indicated the location of a hidden food reward in a two-way object choice task. Goats were able to use both ‘Touch’ and ‘Point’ cues to infer the correct location of the reward but did not perform above the level expected by chance in the ‘Head only’ condition. We conclude that goats are able to differentiate among different body postures of a human, including head orientation; however, despite their success at using multiple physical human cues, they fail to spontaneously use human head direction as a cue in a food-related context.


Dwarf goats Social cognition Food-anticipation paradigm Attentive states Human-given cues 



We would like to thank Katrin Siebert for data coding, Gerd Nürnberg for statistical advice, and Dieter Sehland and Heinz Deike for excellent technical assistance.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MP4 13,142 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MP4 10,226 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Nawroth
    • 1
  • Eberhard von Borell
    • 1
  • Jan Langbein
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Animal Husbandry and Ecology, Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional SciencesMartin-Luther-UniversityHalleGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Behavioural PhysiologyLeibniz Institute for Farm Animal BiologyDummerstorfGermany

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