How do guide dogs and pet dogs (Canis familiaris) ask their owners for their toy and for playing?

Abstract

When apes are not fully understood by humans, they persist with attempts to communicate, elaborating their behaviours to better convey their meaning. Such abilities have never been investigated in dogs. The present study aimed to clarify any effect of the visual attentional state of the owner on dogs’ (Canis familiaris) social-communicative signals for interacting with humans, and to determine whether dogs persist and elaborate their behaviour in the face of failure to communicate a request. Gaze at a hidden target or at the owner, gaze alternation between a hidden target and the owner, vocalisations and contacts in 12 guide and 12 pet dogs were analysed (i) when the dogs were asked by their owners (blind or sighted) to fetch their inaccessible toy and (ii) when the dogs were subsequently given an unfamiliar object (apparent unsuccessful communication) or their toy (apparent successful communication). No group differences were found, indicating no effect of the visual status of the owner on the dogs’ socio-communicative modes (i.e. no sensitivity to human visual attention). Results, however, suggest that the dogs exhibited persistence (but not elaboration) in their “showing” behaviours in each condition, except that in which the toy was returned. Thus, their communication was about a specific item in space (the toy). The results suggest that dogs possess partially intentional non-verbal deictic abilities: (i) to get their inaccessible toy, the dogs gazed at their owners as if to trigger their attention; gaze alternation between the owner and the target direction, and two behaviours directed at the target were performed, apparently to indicate the location of the hidden toy; (ii) after the delivery of the toy, the dogs behaved as if they returned to the play routine, gazing at their owner whilst holding their toy. In conclusion, this study shows that dogs possess partially intentional non-verbal deictic abilities: they exhibit successive visual orienting between a partner and objects, apparent attention-getting behaviours, no sensitivity to the visual status of humans for communication, and persistence in (but no elaboration of) communicative behaviours when apparent attempts to “manipulate” the human partner fail.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and conducted at the “Laboratoire Eco-Anthropologie et Ethnobiologie”, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. The experiments comply with the current laws in France for animal and human research. The author thanks the guide and pet dog owner dyads for their interest and cooperation. The author is especially grateful to P. Piwowar for her contribution to the analysis of the videos and to A. Le Jeannic for her contribution to conducting the experiments and in analysing the tapes. The author is also grateful to A. Miklósi for helpful commentaries on a previous version of the manuscript, and to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the design and interpretation of the study and for corrections to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Florence Gaunet.

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Gaunet, F. How do guide dogs and pet dogs (Canis familiaris) ask their owners for their toy and for playing?. Anim Cogn 13, 311–323 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-009-0279-z

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Keywords

  • Dog
  • Deictic behaviour
  • Intentional communication
  • Guide dogs
  • Socialisation
  • Play
  • Social cognition