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Dogs and cats prioritize human action: choosing a now-empty instead of a still-baited container

Abstract

Dogs and cats are sensitive to human social signals such as pointing, gazing and facial expressions. Previous studies have demonstrated that dogs show over-reliance on human actions in the presence of conflicting physical cues. However, it is still unclear whether this tendency is specific to dogs, or shared with other domesticated animals. Here, we compared the behavior of dogs and cats in a two-choice task after they saw a person taking and pretending to eat food from a baited container. After one experimenter showed the dogs (Experiment 1) or cats (Experiment 2) two opaque containers, each containing a piece of the food, another (the demonstrator) removed food from one container and ate it (Eating condition), or simply picked up the food and returned it to the container (Showing condition). We recorded which container the subjects approached first after the demonstration. Both dogs and cats were less likely to choose the container associated with the human in the Eating than the Showing condition, although choice for this container was above chance in both conditions. In Experiment 3, we confirmed that dogs and cats naturally chose a baited over an empty container. These results suggest that both species’ reasoning abilities might be influenced by a bias for prioritizing specific human actions. Although dogs and cats have different domestication histories, their social awareness of humans appears similar, possibly because they both share their environment with humans.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant number No. 16J08691 to Hitomi Chijiiwa, No. 17J08974 to Saho Takagi, No. 16J1034 to Minori Arahori, No. 13J05327 to Yusuke Hori, No. 25118003 to Atsuko Saito, and Nos. 16H06301, 16H01505, 16H01726, 15K12047, 26119514, 25240020, and 25118002 to Kazuo Fujita from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). We wish to thank Aya Norikiyo, Yuki Yamada, Saki Saito, Ayako Morisaki, Arashi Obara, Mana Tsuzuki, Ayami Hyuga, Yuya Hataji, Yuki Ito, and Arii Watanabe for their assistance in conducting experiments, Eriko Ogura for her help in recruiting subjects, and James R. Anderson for editing the article. We also thank all dogs, cats and their owners for their participation.

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Correspondence to Hitomi Chijiiwa.

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This experiment adhered to the ethical guidelines of Kyoto University, and was approved by the Animal Experiments Committee of the Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University. We recruited dogs and cats through a personal acquaintance network. Informed consent was obtained from all owners before their animals were tested.

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Chijiiwa, H., Takagi, S., Arahori, M. et al. Dogs and cats prioritize human action: choosing a now-empty instead of a still-baited container. Anim Cogn 24, 65–73 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01416-w

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Keywords

  • Companion animal
  • Human–dog interaction
  • Human–cat interaction
  • Domestication
  • Social cognition
  • Comparative study