Are Dogs Able to Communicate with Their Owners about a Desirable Food in a Referential and Intentional Way?

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Savalli, Carine [UNIFESP]
Ades, Cesar
Gaunet, Florence
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The ability of dogs to use human communicative signals has been exhaustively studied. However, few studies have focused on the production of communicative signals by dogs. the current study investigated if dogs are able to communicate by using directional signals towards some desirable object in the environment and also if they show an apparent intention to manipulate their owner's behavior in order to receive it. Some operational criteria were used to investigate referential and intentional communication: the signal should be influenced by the audience and by the recipient's direction of visual attention; the sender should display gaze alternations between the recipient and the object and attention-getting behaviors, and, finally, the sender should persist and elaborate the communication when attempts to manipulate the recipient failed. Aiming to investigate these criteria in dogs, 29 subjects were tested using an experimental set up in which they could see a desirable but unreachable food and they needed the cooperation of their owners in order to receive it. This study found evidence of all operational criteria, especially for gaze alternation between the owner and the food, which suggested that some dogs' communicative behaviors could be functionally referential and intentional. Nevertheless, similar to other studies about social cognition in animals, it is not possible to distinguish if the dog's behaviors are based on simple mechanisms or on a theory of mind about their owners.
Plos One. San Francisco: Public Library Science, v. 9, n. 9, 19 p., 2014.