Comprehension of human pointing gestures in young human-reared wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis familiaris)

Abstract

Dogs have a remarkable skill to use human-given cues in object-choice tasks, but little is known to what extent their closest wild-living relative, the wolf can achieve this performance. In Study 1, we compared wolf and dog pups hand-reared individually and pet dogs of the same age in their readiness to form eye-contact with a human experimenter in an object-choice task and to follow her pointing gesture. The results showed that dogs already at 4 months of age use momentary distal pointing to find hidden food even without intensive early socialization. Wolf pups, on the contrary, do not attend to this subtle pointing. Accordingly in Studies 2 and 3, these wolves were tested longitudinally with this and four other (easier) human-given cues. This revealed that wolves socialized at a comparable level to dogs are able to use simple human-given cues spontaneously if the human’s hand is close to the baited container (e.g. touching, proximal pointing). Study 4 showed that wolves can follow also momentary distal pointing similarly to dogs if they have received extensive formal training. Comparing the wolves to naïve pet dogs of the same age revealed that during several months of formal training wolves can reach the level of dogs in their success of following momentary distal pointing in parallel with improving their readiness to form eye-contact with a human experimenter. We assume that the high variability in the wolves’ communicative behaviour might have provided a basis for selection during the course of domestication of the dog.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Agnetta B, Hare B, Tomasello M (2000) Cues to food locations that domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) of different ages do and do not use. Anim Cogn 3:107–112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson JR, Sallaberry P, Barbier H (1995) Use of experimenter-given cues during object-choice tasks by capuchin monkeys. Anim Behav 49:201–208

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Call J, Tomasello M (1994) Production and comprehension of referential pointing by orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). J Comp Psych 108:307–317

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Carpenter M, Tomasello M, Savage-Rumbaugh S (1995) Joint attention and imitative learning in children chimpanzees and enculturated chimpanzees. Soc Dev 4:217–237

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Csányi V (2000) The ‘human behaviour complex’ and the compulsion of communication: key factors of human evolution. Semiotica 128:45–60

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Donald M (1991) Origins of the modern mind. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  7. Fentress JC (1967) Observations on the behavioral development of a hand-reared male timber wolf. Am Zool 7:339–351

    Google Scholar 

  8. Frank H, Frank MG (1982) Comparison of problem-solving performance in six-week-old wolves and dogs. Anim Behav 30:95–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Frank H, Frank MG (1987) The University of Michigan canine information-processing project (1979–1981). In: Frank H (ed) Man and wolf: advances, issues and problems in captive wolf research. W. Junk, Dordrecht, pp 143–167

    Google Scholar 

  10. Frank H, Frank MG, Hasselbach LM, Littleton DM (1989) Motivation and insight in wolf (Canis lupus) and Alaskan malamute (Canis familiaris): visual discrimination learning. Bull Psychonom Soc 27:455–458

    Google Scholar 

  11. Gácsi M, Győri B, Miklósi Á, Virányi Zs, Kubinyi E, Topál J, Csányi V (2005) Species-specific differences and similarities in the behavior of hand raised dog and wolf puppies in social situations with humans. Dev Psychobiol 47:111–122

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Gomez JC (1996) Ostensive behaviour in great apes: the role of eye contact. In: Russon AE, Parker ST, Bard K (eds) Reaching into thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 131–151

    Google Scholar 

  13. Hare B, Tomasello M (2005) Human-like social skills in dogs? Trends Cogn Sci 9:439–444

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Hare B, Call J, Agnetta B, Tomasello M (2000) Chimpanzees know what conspecifics do and do not see. Anim Behav 59:771–785

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hare B, Brown M, Williamson C, Tomasello M (2002) The domestication of cognition in dogs. Science 298:1634–1636

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Hare B, Plyusnina I, Ignacio N, Schepina O, Stepika A, Wrangham R, Trut L (2005) Social cognitive evolution in captive foxes is a correlated by-product of experimental domestication. Curr Biol 15:226–230

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Kamil AC (1998) On the proper definition of cognitive ethology. In: Balda RP, Pepperberg IM, Kamil AC (eds) Animal cognition in nature. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 1–29

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kaminski J, Riedel J, Call J, Tomasello M (2005) Domestic goats (Capra hircus) follow gaze direction and use some social cues in an object choice task. Anim Behav 69:11–18

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Klinghammer E, Goodmann PA (1987) Socialization and management of wolves in captivity. In: Frank H (ed) Man and wolf: advances, issues and problems in captive wolf research. W. Junk, Dordrecht, pp 31–61

    Google Scholar 

  20. Lefebvre L (1995) Ecological correlates of social learning problems and solutions for the comparative method. Behav Proc 35:163–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Maros K, Gácsi M, Miklósi Á (2007) Comprehension of human pointing gestures in horses (Equus caballus). Anim Cogn (in press)

  22. Mignon-Grasteau S, Boissy A, Bouix J, Faure J, Fisher AD, Hinch GN, Jensen P, Le Neindre P, Mormede P, Prunet P, Vandeputte M, Beaumont C (2005) Genetics of adaptation and domestication in livestock. Livestock Prod Sci 93:3–14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. McKinley J, Sambrook TD (2000) Use of human-given cues by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and horses (Equus caballus). Anim Cogn 3:13-22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Miklósi Á, Soproni K (2006) Comprehension of the human pointing gesture in animals: a comparative approach. Anim Cogn 9:81–93

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Miklósi Á, Polgárdi R, Topál J, Csányi V (1998) Use of experimenter given cues in dogs. Anim Cogn 1:113–121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Miklósi Á, Polgárdi R, Topál J, Csányi V (2000) Intentional behaviour in dog-human communication: an experimental analysis of ‘showing’ behaviour in the dog. Anim Cogn 3:159–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Miklósi Á, Kubinyi E, Topál J, Gácsi M, Virányi Zs, Csányi V (2003) A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. Curr Biol 13:763–766

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Miklósi Á, Pongrácz P, Lakatos G, Topál J, Csányi V (2005) A comparative study of dog–human and cat–human interactions in communicative contexts. J Comp Psych 119:179–186

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Miliken GA, Johnson DE (1992) Analysis of messy data. Volume 1: designed experiments. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York

    Google Scholar 

  30. Murphy JV, Miller RE (1955) The effect of spatial contiguity of cue and reward in the object-quality learning of rhesus monkeys. J Comp Physiol Psychol 48:221–224

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Pack AA, Herman LM (2004) Bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops trunctaus) comprehend the referent of both static and dynamic human gazing and pointing in an object-choice task. J Comp Psychol 118:160–171

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Pongrácz P, Miklósi Á, Kubinyi E, Gurobi K, Topál J, Csányi V (2001) Social learning in dogs I. The effect of a human demonstrator on the performance of dogs (Canis familiaris) in a detour task. Anim Behav 62:1109–1117

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Povinelli DJ, Reaux JE, Bierschwale DT, Allain AD, Simon BB (1997) Exploitation of pointing as a referential gesture in young children, but not adolescent chimpanzees. Cogn Devel 12:423-461

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Price EO (1999) Behavioral development in animals undergoing domestication. Appl Anim Behav Sci 65:245–271

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Riedel J, Schumann K, Kaminski J, Call J, Tomasello M (2007) The early ontogeny of human-dog communication. Anim Behav (in press)

  36. Scheumann M, Call J (2004) The use of experimenter given cues by South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus). Anim Cogn 7:224–231

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Shapiro AD, Janik VM, Slater PJB (2003) Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) pup responses to experimental-given pointing and directional cues. J Comp Psychol 117:355–362

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Soproni K, Miklósi Á, Topál J, Csányi V (2001) Comprehension of human communicative signs in pet dogs. J Comp Psych 115:122–126

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  39. Soproni K, Miklósi Á, Topál J, Csányi V (2002) Dogs’ (Canis familiaris) responsiveness to human pointing gestures. J Comp Psychol 116:27–34

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Tomasello M (1995) Joint attention as social cognition. In: Moore C, Dunham P (eds) Joint attention: its origins and role in development. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, pp 103–130

    Google Scholar 

  41. Topál J, Miklósi Á, Csányi V (1997) Dog–human relationship affects problem solving ability in the dog. Anthrozoös 10:214–224

    Google Scholar 

  42. Topál J, Gácsi M, Miklósi Á, Virányi Zs, Kubinyi E, Csányi V (2005) The effect of domestication and socialization on attachment to human: A comparative study on hand reared wolves and differently socialized dog puppies. Anim Behav 70:1367–1375

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Trevarthen C (1979) Communication, cooperation in early infancy. In: Bullowa M (ed) Before speech: the beginnings of human communication. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 321–347

    Google Scholar 

  44. Virányi ZS, Gácsi M, Kubinyi E, Kurys A, Miklósi Á, Csányi V (2002) Wolf–human interactions: flight, approach and greeting behaviour toward familiar and unfamiliar humans in hand-reared wolf pups (Canis lupus). In: Dehnhard M, Hofer H (eds) Advances in ethology 37 (supplements to ethology). Blackwell, Berlin, p 83

    Google Scholar 

  45. Zeder MA, Emshwiller E, Smith BD, Bradley DG (2006) Documenting domestication: the intersection of genetics and archaeology. Trends Gen 22:139–155

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to all our graduate and postgraduate students (Anita Kurys, Andrea Navratil, Noémi Takács, Dóra Újváry) in helping with raising the wolves over the years, and for Zoltán Horkai who offered a loving home for them. This research has been supported by OTKA (T043763, PD48495) and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (F01/031). The experiments comply with the current law of Hungary.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zsófia Virányi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Virányi, Z., Gácsi, M., Kubinyi, E. et al. Comprehension of human pointing gestures in young human-reared wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis familiaris). Anim Cogn 11, 373 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-007-0127-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Wolf
  • Dog
  • Object-choice task
  • Human pointing
  • Eye-contact
  • Socialization