Ostensive signals preceding referential cues are crucial in communication-based human knowledge acquisition processes. Since dogs are sensitive to both human ostensive and referential signals, here we investigate whether they also take into account the order of these signals and, in an object-choice task, respond to human pointing more readily when it is preceded by an ostensive cue indicating communicative intent. Adult pet dogs (n = 75) of different breeds were presented with different sequences of a three-step human action. In the relevant sequence (RS) condition, subjects were presented with an ostensive attention getter (verbal addressing and eye contact), followed by referential pointing at one of two identical targets and then a non-ostensive attention getter (clapping of hands). In the irrelevant sequence (IS) condition, the order of attention getters was swapped. We found that dogs chose the target indicated by pointing more frequently in the RS as compared to the IS condition. While dogs selected randomly between the target locations in the IS condition, they performed significantly better than chance in the RS condition. Based on a further control experiment (n = 22), it seems that this effect is not driven by the aversive or irrelevant nature of the non-ostensive cue. This suggests that dogs are sensitive to the order of signal sequences, and the exploitation of human referential pointing depends on the behaviour pattern in which the informing cue is embedded.
Dog Ostensive cues Pointing Signal sequence Referential communication
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