The early ontogeny of human–dog communication

J. Riedel, K. Schumann, Juliane Kaminski, J. Call, M. Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although dogs, Canis familiaris, are skilful at responding to human social cues, the role of ontogeny in the development of these abilities has not been systematically examined. We studied the ability of very young dog puppies to follow human communicative cues and successfully find hidden food. In the first experiment we compared 6-, 8-, 16- and 24-week-old puppies in their ability to use pointing gestures or a marker as a cue. The results showed that puppies, independent of age, could use all human communicative cues provided; only their success at using the marker cue increased with age. In the second and third experiments we investigated the flexibility of the puppies' understanding by reducing the degree to which they could use local enhancement to solve these problems. Here, subjects could not simply approach the hand of the experimenter and follow its direction to the correct location because cups were placed next to the dog instead of next to the experimenter. Six-week-old puppies readily used all of the human communicative cues provided. These findings support the hypothesis that domestication played a critical role in shaping the ability of dogs to follow human-given cues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1014
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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