Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 933–943 | Cite as

Gaze alternation in dogs and toddlers in an unsolvable task: evidence of an audience effect

  • S. Marshall-PesciniEmail author
  • E. Colombo
  • C. Passalacqua
  • I. Merola
  • E. Prato-Previde
Original Paper


Dogs have been shown to use human-directed gazing behaviour and gaze alternation in numerous contexts; however, it is still unclear whether this behaviour can be considered an intentional and referential communicative act. In the current study, adult dogs and preverbal toddlers were tested using the classic unsolvable task paradigm, but varying the attentional stance of the participating audience (the experimenter and the caregiver). The aims were to assess (1) whether dogs and toddlers would use gaze alternation behaviour in similar manners when the task became unsolvable, and (2) whether both dogs and toddlers would take into account the attentional stance of the audience when initiating a communicative interaction. Results indicated that both toddlers and dogs increased their gaze alternation behaviour between the apparatus and caregiver when the task became unsolvable, and toddlers also showed an increase in pointing behaviour. Furthermore, both species showed a capacity to take into account the attentional stance of the audience when manifesting gaze alternation behaviours towards them. Taken together, these results suggest that gaze alternation is both an intentional and referential communicative act and that both species can take into account the need for audience attention when communicating with them.


Dogs Toddlers Attention Communication Gaze alternation 



This research was supported by funds from the Università di Milano to Sarah Marshall-Pescini and Emanuela Prato-Previde and doctoral grants from the same University to Chiara Passalacqua and Isabella Merola. We would like to thank all the owners and their dogs that participated as volunteers. This research complies with the current Italian laws on animal welfare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Marshall-Pescini
    • 1
    Email author
  • E. Colombo
    • 1
  • C. Passalacqua
    • 1
  • I. Merola
    • 1
  • E. Prato-Previde
    • 1
  1. 1.Sez. di Psicologia, Dipartimento di Fisiopatologia medico-chirurgica e dei TrapiantiUniversità di MilanoMilanItaly

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