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Dogs steal in the dark


All current evidence of visual perspective taking in dogs can possibly be explained by dogs reacting to certain stimuli rather than understanding what others see. In the current study, we set up a situation in which contextual information and social cues are in conflict. A human always forbade the dog from taking a piece of food. The part of the room being illuminated was then varied, for example, either the area where the human was seated or the area where the food was located was lit. Results show that dogs steal significantly more food when it is dark compared to when it is light. While stealing forbidden food the dog’s behaviour also depends on the type of illumination in the room. Illumination around the food, but not the human, affected the dogs’ behaviour. This indicates that dogs do not take the sight of the human as a signal to avoid the food. It also cannot be explained by a low-level associative rule of avoiding illuminated food which dogs actually approach faster when they are in private. The current finding therefore raises the possibility that dogs take into account the human’s visual access to the food while making their decision to steal it.

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We thank the dog owners for their support. Without their help our work would not be possible. We also thank Martina Neumann and Katja Schönefeld for help with data collection and reliability coding. We thank Roger Mundry for statistical support. Juliane Kaminski was funded by a grant of the Volkswagenstiftung.

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Correspondence to Juliane Kaminski.

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Kaminski, J., Pitsch, A. & Tomasello, M. Dogs steal in the dark. Anim Cogn 16, 385–394 (2013).

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  • Domestic dog
  • Social cognition
  • Perspective taking
  • Competition