Do domestic dogs interpret pointing as a command?

L. Scheider, Juliane Kaminski, J. Call, M. Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Domestic dogs comprehend human gestural communication flexibly, particularly the pointing gesture. Here, we examine whether dogs interpret pointing informatively, that is, as simply providing information, or rather as a command, for example, ordering them to move to a particular location. In the first study a human pointed toward an empty cup. In one manipulation, the dog either knew or did not know that the designated cup was empty (and that the other cup actually contained the food). In another manipulation, the human (as authority) either did or did not remain in the room after pointing. Dogs ignored the human’s gesture if they had better information, irrespective of the authority’s presence. In the second study, we varied the level of authority of the person pointing. Sometimes this person was an adult, and sometimes a young child. Dogs followed children’s pointing just as frequently as they followed adults’ pointing (and ignored the dishonest pointing of both), suggesting that the level of authority did not affect their behavior. Taken together these studies suggest that dogs do not see pointing as an imperative command ordering them to a particular location. It is still not totally clear, however, if they interpret it as informative or in some other way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-372
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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