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Effects of breed group and development on dogs’ willingness to follow a human misleading advice

Abstract

The aim of this work was to investigate the effect of dog breed groups, i.e., primitive, hunting/herding and Mastiff like (Study 1) and development, i.e., 4-month-old puppies vs adults (Study 2) on a quantity discrimination task. The task consisted of three conditions: C1—dogs were asked to choose between a large and a small amount of food; C2—the same choice was presented and dogs could choose after having witnessed the experimenter favouring the small quantity. C3—similar to C2 but the plates had two equally small food quantities. Study 1 revealed that dogs in the hunting/herding group were significantly more likely than Mastiff-like group to choose the small quantity indicated by the person over the large one, although all dog groups chose the large quantity over the small when they had a free choice. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that hunting/herding breeds have been selected for working in cooperation with humans and thus may be more sensitive to human social communicative cues than other breeds. In Study 2, results showed that 4-month-old puppies performed at chance level in C1, whereas in C2 both adults and puppies conformed to the experimenter’s choice. In C3, adults followed the experimenter significantly more than puppies, although puppies still followed the experimenter above chance. Overall, domestic dogs seem to rely heavily on social communicative cues from humans, even when the information contradicts their own perception. This tendency to respond to human social cues is present, although at a lesser extent already at 4 months.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by doctoral grants from the University of Milan to CP and a doctoral grant from the University of Parma to SB. We are very grateful to Sarah Marshall-Pescini for her contribution in running the experiments and to all the owners and dogs who participated as volunteers in these studies.

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Correspondence to Shanis Barnard.

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Barnard, S., Passalacqua, C., Pelosi, A. et al. Effects of breed group and development on dogs’ willingness to follow a human misleading advice. Anim Cogn 22, 757–768 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-019-01272-3

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Keywords

  • Breed differences
  • Development
  • Domestic dog
  • Food-choice task
  • Quantity discrimination