Domestic dogs use contextual information and tone of voice when following a human pointing gesture

L. Scheider, Susanne Grassmann, Juliane Kaminski, M. Tomasello

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Domestic dogs are skillful at using the human pointing gesture. In this study we investigated whether dogs take contextual information into account when following pointing gestures, specifically, whether they follow human pointing gestures more readily in the context in which food has been found previously. Also varied was the human's tone of voice as either imperative or informative. Dogs were more sustained in their searching behavior in the ‘context’ condition as opposed to the ‘no context’ condition, suggesting that they do not simply follow a pointing gesture blindly but use previously acquired contextual information to inform their interpretation of that pointing gesture. Dogs also showed more sustained searching behavior when there was pointing than when there was not, suggesting that they expect to find a referent when they see a human point. Finally, dogs searched more in high-pitched informative trials as opposed to the low-pitched imperative trials, whereas in the latter dogs seemed more inclined to respond by sitting. These findings suggest that a dog's response to a pointing gesture is flexible and depends on the context as well as the human's tone of voice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e21676
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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