Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 461–470 | Cite as

My owner, right or wrong: the effect of familiarity on the domestic dog’s behavior in a food-choice task

  • Amy CookEmail author
  • Jennifer Arter
  • Lucia F. Jacobs
Original Paper


Dogs are strongly influenced by human behavior, and they readily form bonds with specific humans. Yet these lines of inquiry are not often combined. The goal of this study was to investigate whether such bonds would play a role in how dogs behave in response to human signals. Using various types of signals, we compared dogs’ use of information from a familiar human (their owner) versus an unfamiliar human when choosing between two food containers. In some conditions, the owner indicated a container that gave food and a stranger indicated a container that did not; in other conditions, this was reversed. Dogs more often chose the container indicated by or nearest to their owner, even when this container never yielded a food reward. In two conditions, dogs chose at chance: a control condition in which both pointers were strangers and a condition in which the owner and stranger sat reading books and provided no social signal. This is the first study to directly compare owners to strangers in a single food-choice situation. Our results suggest that dogs make decisions by attending preferentially to social signals from humans with whom they have become familiar.


Domestic dog Pointing Canis familiaris Social cognition Attachment 



We thank Kelly Dunbar, Sierra Eisen, Desiree Rogers, Susan Iyican, Anna Waismeyer, Mikel Delgado, and Aryn Hervel. We also thank the Committee on Research at the University of California, Berkeley; our dog participants and their people; and the University of California Chancellor’s Fellowship awarded to AC.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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