Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 961–971 | Cite as

Looking back at ‘looking back’: operationalising referential gaze for dingoes in an unsolvable task

  • Bradley Philip SmithEmail author
  • Carla Anita Litchfield
Original Paper


This paper examined the performance of dingoes (Canis dingo) on the rope-pulling task, previously used by Miklósi et al. (Curr Biol 13:763–766, 2003) to highlight a key distinction in the problem-solving behaviour of wolves compared to dogs when in the company of humans. That is, when dogs were confronted with an unsolvable task, following a solvable version of the task they looked back or gazed at the human, whereas, wolves did not. We replicated the rope-pulling task using 12 sanctuary-housed dingoes and used the Miklósi et al. (Curr Biol 13:763–766, 2003) definition of looking back behaviour to analyse the data. However, at least three different types of look backs were observed in our study. We, then developed a more accurate operational definition of looking back behaviour that was task specific and reanalysed the data. We found that the operational definition employed greatly influences the results, with vague definitions potentially overestimating the prevalence of looking back behaviour. Thus, caution must be taken when interpreting the results of studies utilising looking back as behaviour linked to assistance seeking during problem solving. We present a more stringent definition and make suggestions for future research.


Dingo Dog Rope task Gaze Looking back Cognition Intelligence Domestication 



Thanks to Lyn and Peter Watson at the Dingo Discovery and Research Centre, Victoria Australia, for their generous help and support. Thanks also to Lyn Whitworth for assistance during data collection and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by the Australian Dingo Foundation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

All methods comply with the current laws of Australia (IMVS Animal Research Committee, project number 121/07).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bradley Philip Smith
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Carla Anita Litchfield
    • 3
  1. 1.Appleton InstituteCentral Queensland UniversityWayvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Dingo FoundationToolern ValeAustralia
  3. 3.School of Psychology, Social Work and Social PolicyUniversity of South AustraliaMagillAustralia

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