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Effect of training and familiarity on responsiveness to human cues in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris)

Abstract

Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) seem to possess an evolved competency to follow human-given cues, often out-performing their wild progenitor the wolf (Canis lupus) on cue-following tasks. However, domestication may not be solely responsible for the socio-cognitive skills of dogs, with ontogenetic experience also playing a role. This research evaluated the effects of intensive training on cue-following behaviour using an unreinforced object-choice paradigm. The responses of dogs that were trained to competitive levels were compared to those of pet dogs with only basic training, and dogs living in an animal shelter that demonstrated no or only rudimentary following of basic commands. Using a cue-following task where three types of cues were presented by familiar and unfamiliar human partners, the number of cues followed by each training group were recorded. All dogs found cues where gesture was combined with a congruent head and eye movement easier to follow than either gesture or eye gaze alone. Whether the cue-giver was familiar or not had a significant effect on number of cues followed in homed dogs, and the performance of shelter dogs was comparable to the other groups when faced with an unfamiliar cue-giver. Contrary to predictions, level of training did not improve performance on the cue-following task. This work does provide support for the presence of an evolved adaptation to exploit social cues provided by humans that can be augmented by familiarity with the cue giver. However, additional joint activity as experienced in an intensive training regime does not seem to increase accuracy in following human-given cues.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank the staff at Bandeath Dog Shelter in Stirling for access to the dogs and help with screening and setting up of the experiment and all the owners and their dogs who took part. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments during the review process.

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Correspondence to Clare L. Cunningham.

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Cunningham, C.L., Ramos, M.F. Effect of training and familiarity on responsiveness to human cues in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Anim Cogn 17, 805–814 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0714-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0714-z

Keywords

  • Canis familiaris
  • Familiarity
  • Dog–human interaction
  • Social cognition
  • Cue-following
  • Training