Skip to main content

Juvenile domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) use human-given cues in an object choice task

Abstract

Research on the comprehension of human-given cues by domesticated as well as non-domesticated species has received considerable attention over the last decade. While several species seem to be capable of utilizing these cues, former work with domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) has shown inconclusive results. In this study, we investigated the use of human-given cues in an object choice task by young domestic pigs (N = 17; 7 weeks of age) who had very limited human contact prior to the experiments. Subjects had to choose between two bowls of which only one was baited with a reward. Over the course of five experiments, pigs were able to use proximal and, with some constraints, also distal pointing cues presented in both a dynamic-sustained and in a momentary manner. When the experimenter was pointing from the incorrect bowl towards the correct one, most of the subjects had problems solving the task—indicating that some form of stimulus/local enhancement affected pigs’ decision making. Interestingly, pigs were able to utilize the body and head orientation of a human experimenter to locate the hidden reward but failed to co-orient when head or body orientation of the experimenter was directed into distant space with no bowls present. Control trials ruled out the possibility that other factors (e.g. odour cues) affected subjects’ choice behaviour. Learning during experiments played a minor role and only occurred in three out of twelve test conditions. We conclude that domestic pigs, even at a very young age, are skilful in utilizing various human-given cues in an object choice task—raising the question whether pigs only used stimulus/local enhancement and associative learning processes or whether they were able to comprehend the communicative nature of at least some of these cues.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Agnetta B, Hare B, Tomasello M (2000) Cues to food location that domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) of different ages do and do not use. Anim Cogn 3(2):107–112. doi:10.1007/s100710000070

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Albiach-Serrano A, Bräuer J, Cacchione T, Zickert N, Amici F (2012) The effect of domestication and ontogeny in swine cognition (Sus scrofa scrofa and S. s. domestica). Appl Anim Behav Sci 141(1–2):25–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Broom DM, Sena H, Moynihan KL (2009) Pigs learn what a mirror image represents and use it to obtain information. Anim Behav 78(5):1037–1041. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.07.027

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Clutton-Brock J (1995) Origins of the dog: domestication and early history. In: Serpell JA (ed) The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interaction with people. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 7–20

    Google Scholar 

  5. Giret N, Miklósi Á, Kreutzer M, Bovet D (2009) Use of experimenter-given cues by African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Anim Cogn 12(1):1–10. doi:10.1007/s10071-008-0163-2

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hare B, Tomasello M (2005) Human-like social skills in dogs? T Cogn Sci 9(9):439–444

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hare B, Brown M, Williamson C, Tomasello M (2002) The domestication of social cognition in dogs. Science 298(5598):1634–1636

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Held S, Mendl M, Devereux C, Byrne RW (2000) Social tactics of pigs in a competitive foraging task: the ‘informed forager’ paradigm. Anim Behav 59(3):569–576. doi:10.1006/anbe.1999.1322

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Held S, Mendl M, Devereux C, Byrne RW (2001) Behaviour of domestic pigs in a visual perspective taking task. Behaviour 138:1337–1354. doi:10.1163/156853901317367627

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Held S, Mendl M, Devereux C, Byrne RW (2002) Foraging pigs alter their behaviour in response to exploitation. Anim Behav 64:157–166. doi:10.1006/anbe 2002.3044

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hernádi A, Kis A, Turcsán B, Topál J (2012) Man’s underground best friend: domestic ferrets, unlike the wild forms, show evidence of dog-like social-cognitive skills. PLoS ONE 7(8):e43267. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043267

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Kaminski J, Nitzschner M (2013) Do dogs get the point? A review of dog–human communication ability. Learn Behav. doi:10.1016/j.lmot.2013.05.001

    Google Scholar 

  13. Kaminski J, Riedel J, Call J, Tomasello M (2005) Domestic goats, Capra hircus, follow gaze direction and use social cues in an object choice task. Anim Behav 69(1):11–18. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.05.008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Maros K, Gácsi M, Miklósi Á (2008) Comprehension of human pointing gestures in horses (Equus caballus). Anim Cogn 11(3):457–466. doi:10.1007/s10071-008-0136-5

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. McKinley J, Sambrook TD (2000) Use of human-given cues by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and horses (Equus caballus). Anim Cogn 3(1):13–22. doi:10.1007/s100710050046

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. McLeman MA, Mendl M, Jones RB, White R, Wathes CM (2005) Discrimination of conspecifics by juvenile domestic pigs, Sus scrofa. Anim Behav 70(2):451–461. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.11.013

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Mech LD (2007) Possible use of foresight, understanding, and planning by wolves hunting muskoxen. Arctic 60:145–149

    Google Scholar 

  18. Mendl M, Randle K, Pope S (2002) Young female pigs can discriminate individual differences in odours from conspecific urine. Anim Behav 64(1):97–101. doi:10.1006/anbe2002.3040

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Miklósi A, Soproni K (2006) A comparative analysis of animals’ understanding of the human pointing gesture. Anim Cogn 9(2):81–93. doi:10.1007/s10071-005-0008-1

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Miklósi Á, Pongracz P, Lakatos G, Topal J, Csanyi V (2005) A comparative study of the use of visual communicative signals in interactions between dogs (Canis familiaris) and humans and cats (Felis catus) and humans. J Comp Psychol 119(2):179–186. doi:10.1037/0735-7036.119.2.179

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Mulcahy NJ, Call J (2009) The performance of bonobos (Pan paniscus), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) in two versions of an object-choice task. J Comp Psychol 123(3):304–309. doi:10.1037/a0016222

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Mulcahy NJ, Hedge V (2012) Are great apes tested with an abject object-choice task? Anim Behav 83(2):313–321. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.11.019

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Muro C, Escobedo R, Spector L, Coppinger RP (2011) Wolf-pack (Canis lupus) hunting strategies emerge from simple rules in computational simulations. Behav Process 88:192–197

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Nawroth C, Ebersbach M, von Borell E (2013) Are juvenile domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) sensitive to the attentive states of humans? The impact of impulsivity on choice behaviour. Behav Process 96:53–58. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2013.03.002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Proops L, Walton M, McComb K (2010) The use of human-given cues by domestic horses, Equus caballus, during an object choice task. Anim Behav 79(6):1205–1209. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.02.015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Range F, Virányi Z (2011) Development of Gaze Following Abilities in Wolves (Canis Lupus). PLoS ONE 6:e16888

    CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Riedel J, Schumann K, Kaminski J, Call J, Tomasello M (2008) The early ontogeny of human–dog communication. Anim Behav 75(3):1003–1014. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.08.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Rosati AG, Hare B (2009) Looking past the model species: diversity in gaze-following skills across primates. Curr Opin Neurobiol 19(1):45–51. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2009.03.002

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Scheumann M, Call J (2004) The use of experimenter-given cues by South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus). Anim Cogn 7(4):224–230. doi:10.1007/s10071-004-0216-0

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Schloegl C, Kotrschal K, Bugnyar T (2007) Gaze following in common ravens, Corvus corax: ontogeny and habituation. Anim Behav 74(4):769–778. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2006.08.017

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Schloegl C, Kotrschal K, Bugnyar T (2008) Do common ravens (Corvus corax) rely on human or conspecific gaze cues to detect hidden food? Anim Cogn 11(2):231–241. doi:10.1007/s10071-007-0105-4

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Schmidt J, Scheid C, Kotrschal K, Bugnyar T, Schloegl C (2011) Gaze direction: a cue for hidden food in rooks (Corvus frugilegus)? Behav Process 88(2):88–93. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2011.08.002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Soproni K, Miklósi Á, Topál J, Csányi V (2001) Comprehension of human communicative signs in pet dogs (Canis familiaris). J Comp Psychol 115(2):122–126

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Tomasello M, Call J, Hare B (1998) Five primate species follow the visual gaze of conspecifics. Anim Behav 55(4):1063–1069

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Udell MAR, Dorey NR, Wynne CDL (2008) Wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues. Anim Behav 76(6):1767–1773

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Umberto A (2007) Pigs and humans. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  37. Virányi Z, Gácsi M, Kubinyi E, Topál J, Belényi B, Ujfalussy D, Miklósi Á (2008) Comprehension of human pointing gestures in young human-reared wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis familiaris). Anim Cogn 11(3):373–387. doi:10.1007/s10071-007-0127-y

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Wilkinson A, Mandl I, Bugnyar T, Huber L (2010) Gaze following in the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria). Anim Cogn 13(5):765–769. doi:10.1007/s10071-010-0320-2

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Wood-Gush DGM, Jensen P, Algers B (1990) Behaviour of pigs in a novel semi-natural environment. Biol Behav 15:62–73

    Google Scholar 

  40. Zonderland JJ, Cornelissen L, Wolthuis-Fillerup M, Spoolder HAM (2008) Visual acuity of pigs at different light intensities. Appl Anim Behav Sci 111(1–2):28–37. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2007.05.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the two reviewers for their detailed comments on the manuscript.

Ethical standard

The experiments were carried out at facilities of the Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences of the University of Halle-Wittenberg under licence of the regional veterinary control board. Housing facilities met the German welfare requirements for farm animals.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christian Nawroth.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 21 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Nawroth, C., Ebersbach, M. & von Borell, E. Juvenile domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) use human-given cues in an object choice task. Anim Cogn 17, 701–713 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0702-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Domestic pig
  • Social cognition
  • Object choice
  • Human-given cues
  • Human–animal interaction