Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 367–374 | Cite as

Dogs (Canis familiaris) adjust their social behaviour to the differential role of inanimate interactive agents

  • Eszter PetróEmail author
  • Judit Abdai
  • Anna Gergely
  • József Topál
  • Ádám Miklósi
Original Paper


Dogs are able to flexibly adjust their social behaviour to situation-specific characteristics of their human partner’s behaviour in problem situations. However, dogs do not necessarily detect the specific role played by the human in a particular situation: they may form expectations about their partners’ behaviour based on previous experiences with them. Utilising inanimate objects (UMO—unidentified moving object) as interacting agents offers new possibilities for investigating social behaviour, because in this way we can remove or control the influence of previous experience with the partner. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether dogs are able to recognise the different roles of two UMOs and are able to adjust their communicative behaviour towards them. In the learning phase of the experiment, dogs were presented with a two-way food-retrieval problem in which two UMOs, which differed in their physical appearance and abilities, helped the dog obtain a piece of food in their own particular manner. After a short experience with both UMOs, dogs in the test phase faced one of the problems in the presence of both inanimate agents. Overall, dogs displayed similar levels of gazing behaviour towards the UMOs, but in the first test they looked, approached and touched the relevant partner first. This rapid adjustment of social behaviour towards UMOs suggests that dogs may generalise their experiences with humans to unfamiliar agents and are able to select the appropriate partner when facing a problem situation.


Dog Problem solving Social interaction Inanimate agent 



This research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) Sinergia project SWARMIX (Project Number CRSI22 133059) and MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group (MTA 01 031) and OTKA K 112138. The authors are grateful to the owners for participating in the experiment.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eszter Petró
    • 1
    Email author
  • Judit Abdai
    • 1
  • Anna Gergely
    • 1
    • 2
  • József Topál
    • 2
  • Ádám Miklósi
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EthologyEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and PsychologyHungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary
  3. 3.MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research GroupBudapestHungary

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