Comprehension and utilisation of pointing gestures and gazing in dog–human communication in relatively complex situations

Abstract

The aim of the present investigation was to study the visual communication between humans and dogs in relatively complex situations. In the present research, we have modelled more lifelike situations in contrast to previous studies which often relied on using only two potential hiding locations and direct association between the communicative signal and the signalled object. In Study 1, we have provided the dogs with four potential hiding locations, two on each side of the experimenter to see whether dogs are able to choose the correct location based on the pointing gesture. In Study 2, dogs had to rely on a sequence of pointing gestures displayed by two different experimenters. We have investigated whether dogs are able to recognise an ‘indirect signal’, that is, a pointing toward a pointer. In Study 3, we have examined whether dogs can understand indirect information about a hidden object and direct the owner to the particular location. Study 1 has revealed that dogs are unlikely to rely on extrapolating precise linear vectors along the pointing arm when relying on human pointing gestures. Instead, they rely on a simple rule of following the side of the human gesturing. If there were more targets on the same side of the human, they showed a preference for the targets closer to the human. Study 2 has shown that dogs are able to rely on indirect pointing gestures but the individual performances suggest that this skill may be restricted to a certain level of complexity. In Study 3, we have found that dogs are able to localise the hidden object by utilising indirect human signals, and they are able to convey this information to their owner.

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Acknowledgments

The research described here was supported by the European Union (NEST 012787, LIREC-215554), the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA T049692) and ETOCOM project (TÁMOP-4.2.2-08/1/KMR-2008-0007) through the Hungarian National Development Agency in the framework of Social Renewal Operative Programme supported by EU and co-financed by the European Social Fund. The authors are grateful to all the owners who participated in this research for their support throughout the study.

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Correspondence to Gabriella Lakatos.

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Lakatos, G., Gácsi, M., Topál, J. et al. Comprehension and utilisation of pointing gestures and gazing in dog–human communication in relatively complex situations. Anim Cogn 15, 201–213 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0446-x

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Keywords

  • Dogs
  • Communication
  • Human gestures
  • Indirect pointing