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Does affective information influence domestic dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) point-following behavior?

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Several studies have examined dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) comprehension and use of human communicative cues. Relatively few studies have, however, examined the effects of human affective behavior (i.e., facial and vocal expressions) on dogs’ exploratory and point-following behavior. In two experiments, we examined dogs’ frequency of following an adult’s pointing gesture in locating a hidden reward or treat when it occurred silently, or when it was paired with a positive or negative facial and vocal affective expression. Like prior studies, the current results demonstrate that dogs reliably follow human pointing cues. Unlike prior studies, the current results also demonstrate that the addition of a positive affective facial and vocal expression, when paired with a pointing gesture, did not reliably increase dogs’ frequency of locating a hidden piece of food compared to pointing alone. In addition, and within the negative facial and vocal affect conditions of Experiment 1 and 2, dogs were delayed in their exploration, or approach, toward a baited or sham-baited bowl. However, in Experiment 2, dogs continued to follow an adult’s pointing gesture, even when paired with a negative expression, as long as the attention-directing gesture referenced a baited bowl. Together these results suggest that the addition of affective information does not significantly increase or decrease dogs’ point-following behavior. Rather these results demonstrate that the presence or absence of affective expressions influences a dogs’ exploratory behavior and the presence or absence of reward affects whether they will follow an unfamiliar adult’s attention-directing gesture.

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All procedures performed in these experiments were in accordance with the ethical standards of the BYU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. These data were submitted in partial support of the second author’s MS thesis from Brigham Young University. This research was supported by a Brigham Young University undergraduate mentoring grant awarded to the first author. The authors gratefully acknowledge Sean and Ana Aaron, Andrew Dorsett, Chantelle Fitting, Darren Guenther, James Parker, and Will West, for their assistance in data collection. A portion of this data was presented at the 50th annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society, July 2013.

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Correspondence to Ross Flom.

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Table 1 Participant breed

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Flom, R., Gartman, P. Does affective information influence domestic dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) point-following behavior?. Anim Cogn 19, 317–327 (2016).

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