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Owners fail to influence the choices of dogs in a two-choice, visual pointing task

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Experiments that use human pointing gestures in two-way object choice tests are popular for studying visual communication and referential understanding but results may be influenced by involuntary cues from handlers or experimenters (i.e., ‘Clever Hans Effects’). In this paper we investigated whether such cues from a dog’s owner affected performance of dogs during momentary distal pointing trials. Dogs were tested in four groups. In the ‘Blindfolded Owner’ group, the owners did not see the experimenter’s pointing gestures because they wore opaque glasses. In the ‘Passive Clever Hans’ group, owners were told before the test that if their dogs performed without error, they would receive a gift and their dog would be recorded in the ‘smartest dogs registry’. In the ‘Active Clever Hans’ group, owners were instructed to help their dogs to the correct side by pushing them gently in the correct direction. The fourth group served as a control and owners did not wear a blindfold or receive any specific information. We found no influence of cues from the owners in any of the experimental groups. In contrast to studies based on olfactory cues, this suggests that momentary pointing gestures from a human experimenter can be a reliable communicative cue for adult companion dogs, even when dog owners are present and provide additional voluntary or involuntary cues. We suggest that for short-term studies of visual communication, where individual dogs have little opportunity to learn their owners’ cues in the experimental context, the presence of owners may not necessarily distort results.

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Ethology, Biological Institute, Eötvös Loránd University, Pázmány P. s. 1/c, 1117 Budapest, Hungary

10.1163/1568539X-00003060
/content/journals/10.1163/1568539x-00003060
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/content/journals/10.1163/1568539x-00003060
2013-01-01
2016-12-11

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