Guide dogs as a model for investigating the effect of life experience and training on gazing behaviour
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The present study aimed at evaluating possible behavioural differences between guide dogs living in a kennel and interacting with a trainer and those living in a house and interacting with a blind person and their family, when they are faced with an unsolvable task. Fifty-two Labrador retrievers were tested: 13 Trained Guide dogs at the end of their training programme and 11 Working Guide dogs that had been living with their blind owner for at least 1 year. Two control groups of Labrador retrievers were also tested: 14 Young Untrained dogs of the same age as the Trained Guide and 14 Old Untrained dogs of the same age as the Working Guide dogs. Results showed that the Trained Guide dogs gazed towards the owner or the stranger for less time and with a higher latency and spent more time interacting with the experimental apparatus than the other three groups, which all behaved similarly. None of the groups tested showed preferences in gazing towards the stranger or the owner. Together, the results suggest that at the end of their training programme, guide dogs are less prone to engage in human-directed gazing behaviour and more likely to act independently when facing an unsolvable task. Conversely, guide dogs that have been living with a blind person (and their family) for 1 year behave like pet dogs. These findings indicate that guide dogs’ gazing towards humans is favoured by living in close proximity with people and by interacting with them.
KeywordsDog–human communication Cognitive test Gazing Guide dog Training Unsolvable task
We thank all of the dog owners and the dog trainers at the National School of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Special thanks go to the blind owners, who participated in the test with great enthusiasm. We are also grateful to Corrado Migliorucci, a trainer at the School of Guide Dogs for perfect logistical support and great ideas for the organization of the test. This research was supported by ordinary funding from the University of Naples “Federico II”.
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