Domestic dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) socio-cognitive faculties have made them highly sensitive to human social cues. While dogs often excel at understanding human communicative gestures, they perform comparatively poorly in problem-solving and physical reasoning tasks. This difference in their behaviour could be due to the lifestyle and intense socialization, where problem solving and physical cognition are less important than social cognition. Free-ranging dogs live in human-dominated environments, not under human supervision and are less socialized. Being scavengers, they often encounter challenges where problem solving is required in order to get access to food. We tested Indian street dogs in familiar and unfamiliar independent solvable tasks and quantified their persistence and dependence on a novel human experimenter, in addition to their success in solving a task. Our results indicate that free-ranging dogs succeeded and persisted more in the familiar task as compared to the unfamiliar one. They showed negligible amount of human dependence in the familiar task, but showed prolonged gazing and considerable begging behaviour to the human experimenter in the context of the unfamiliar task. Cognitive abilities of free-ranging dogs thus play a pivotal role in determining task-associated behaviours based on familiarity. In addition to that, these dogs inherently tend to socialize with and depend on humans, even if they are strangers. Our results also illustrate free-ranging dogs’ low competence at physical cognitive tasks.
Free-ranging dogs Scavenging Problem solving Social cognition Physical cognition
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SD, DB, JD, ArB, SG and NDN carried out the experiments, and DB analysed the data. MU designed the unfamiliar task protocol and contributed to the experimental discussion. AB supervised the work and co-wrote the paper with DB. This study was partially supported by the SERB Women’s Excellence Award to AB (SB/WEA-005/2013). DB was supported by a DST INSPIRE Fellowship; SD was supported by KVPY Scholarship; ArB and JD were supported by DST INSPIRE SHE. NDN was supported by the IASc-INSA-NASI Summer Research Fellowship programme; SG was supported by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research—Kolkata (IISER Kolkata) Summer Fellowship programme. MU received no funding for the study. We thank Mr. Shubhra Sau and Ms. Ankurita Mondal for helping with the video recording for some of the trials. We thank IISER Kolkata for providing infrastructural support for this work.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest regarding this study.
All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research—Kolkata (approval no. 1385/ac/10/CPCSEA). All meat used in the experiment was fresh and fit for human consumption.
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