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‘Goats that stare at men’: dwarf goats alter their behaviour in response to human head orientation, but do not spontaneously use head direction as a cue in a food-related context

Abstract

Recently, comparative research on the mechanisms and species-specific adaptive values of attributing attentive states and using communicative cues has gained increased interest, particularly in non-human primates, birds, and dogs. Here, we investigate these phenomena in a farm animal species, the dwarf goat (Capra aegagrus hircus). In the first experiment, we investigated the effects of different human head and body orientations, as well as human experimenter presence/absence, on the behaviour of goats in a food-anticipating paradigm. Over a 30-s interval, the experimenter engaged in one of four different postures or behaviours (head and body towards the subject—'Control', head to the side, head and body away from the subject, or leaving the room) before delivering a reward. We found that the level of subjects’ active anticipatory behaviour was highest in the control condition and decreased with a decreasing level of attention paid to the subject by the experimenter. Additionally, goats ‘stared’ (i.e. stood alert) at the experimental set-up for significantly more time when the experimenter was present but paid less attention to the subject (‘Head’ and ‘Back’ condition) than in the ‘Control’ and ‘Out’ conditions. In a second experiment, the experimenter provided different human-given cues that indicated the location of a hidden food reward in a two-way object choice task. Goats were able to use both ‘Touch’ and ‘Point’ cues to infer the correct location of the reward but did not perform above the level expected by chance in the ‘Head only’ condition. We conclude that goats are able to differentiate among different body postures of a human, including head orientation; however, despite their success at using multiple physical human cues, they fail to spontaneously use human head direction as a cue in a food-related context.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Katrin Siebert for data coding, Gerd Nürnberg for statistical advice, and Dieter Sehland and Heinz Deike for excellent technical assistance.

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Correspondence to Jan Langbein.

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Nawroth, C., von Borell, E. & Langbein, J. ‘Goats that stare at men’: dwarf goats alter their behaviour in response to human head orientation, but do not spontaneously use head direction as a cue in a food-related context. Anim Cogn 18, 65–73 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0777-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0777-5

Keywords

  • Dwarf goats
  • Social cognition
  • Food-anticipation paradigm
  • Attentive states
  • Human-given cues