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Dogs do look at images: eye tracking in canine cognition research

Abstract

Despite intense research on the visual communication of domestic dogs, their cognitive capacities have not yet been explored by eye tracking. The aim of the current study was to expand knowledge on the visual cognition of dogs using contact-free eye movement tracking under conditions where social cueing and associative learning were ruled out. We examined whether dogs spontaneously look at actual objects within pictures and can differentiate between pictures according to their novelty or categorical information content. Eye movements of six domestic dogs were tracked during presentation of digital color images of human faces, dog faces, toys, and alphabetic characters. We found that dogs focused their attention on the informative regions of the images without any task-specific pre-training and their gazing behavior depended on the image category. Dogs preferred the facial images of conspecifics over other categories and fixated on a familiar image longer than on novel stimuli regardless of the category. Dogs’ attraction to conspecifics over human faces and inanimate objects might reflect their natural interest, but further studies are needed to establish whether dogs possess picture object recognition. Contact-free eye movement tracking is a promising method for the broader exploration of processes underlying special socio-cognitive skills in dogs previously found in behavioral studies.

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Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the Academy of Finland and University of Helsinki. The authors are grateful to Antti Flyckt, Matti Pastell, Aleksander Alafuzoff, Teemu Peltonen, Jaana Simola, Timo Murtonen, and Kristian Törnqvist for their support in conducting the experiment. Authors also thank IKEA group for the permission to use the photos of children’s toys.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Sanni Somppi.

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Somppi, S., Törnqvist, H., Hänninen, L. et al. Dogs do look at images: eye tracking in canine cognition research. Anim Cogn 15, 163–174 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0442-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0442-1

Keywords

  • Canine
  • Domestic dogs
  • Eye movement tracking
  • Visual cognition