The effects of human attentional state on canine gazing behaviour: a comparison of free-ranging, shelter, and pet dogs

Abstract

The ability of animals to communicate using gaze is a rich area of research. How domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) use and respond to the gaze of humans is an area of particular interest. This study examined how three groups of domestic dogs from different populations (free-ranging dogs, pet dogs, and shelter dogs) responded to a human during three attentional state conditions: when the human was making eye contact (attentive), when the human was turned away (inattentive), and when the human exited the testing area. We found that dogs from different populations differed in their gazing behaviour. Free-ranging dogs responded to the human’s change in attentional state by looking significantly less at the human in the inattentive condition compared to the attentive condition. Pet and shelter dogs did not differ in their gazing behaviour between these conditions. However, they gazed significantly more at the human in both the inattentive and attentive conditions compared to the free-ranging dogs and also spent more time in the proximity of the experimenter. This study suggests that life experience plays an important role in how dogs respond to the attentional state of a human.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the dog owners and Heartland Humane Society for participating in this study. We would also like to thank Lea Hudson, Ana Medina Roman, Susu Peng, and Alexa Myers for assisting with data collection. We give special thanks to the Oregon State University Graduate School and Animal Science Department, and the Department of Science and Technology at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata for supporting this research.

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Lauren Brubaker and Debottam Bhattacharjee designed the study; Lauren Brubaker, Prayas Ghaste, Piuli Shit, and Daisy Babu carried out the experiment. Lauren Brubaker and Debottam Bhattacharjee performed the analyses, drafted the manuscript and are the co-first authors on this manuscript. Anindita Bhadra and Monique Udell critically assisted with study design and helped draft the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication and agree to be held accountable for the work performed therein.

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Correspondence to Lauren Brubaker or Anindita Bhadra.

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Brubaker, L., Bhattacharjee, D., Ghaste, P. et al. The effects of human attentional state on canine gazing behaviour: a comparison of free-ranging, shelter, and pet dogs. Anim Cogn 22, 1129–1139 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-019-01305-x

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Keywords

  • Attentional state
  • Gazing
  • Free-ranging dogs
  • Shelter dogs
  • Pet dogs
  • Domestic dogs