Understanding of human communicative motives in domestic dogs

H. Pettersson, Juliane Kaminski, E. Herrmann, M. Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chimpanzees find it easier to locate food when a human prohibits them from going to a certain location than when she indicates that location helpfully. Human children, in contrast, use the cooperative gesture more readily. The question here was whether domestic dogs are more like chimpanzees, in this regard, or more like human children. In our first study we presented 40 dogs with two communicative contexts. In the cooperative context the experimenter informed the subject where food was hidden by pointing helpfully (with a cooperative tone of voice). In the competitive context the experimenter extended her arm towards the correct location in a prohibitive manner, palm of hand out (uttering a forbidding command in a prohibitive tone of voice). Dogs were successful in the cooperative condition (P = 0.005) but chose randomly in the competitive condition (P = 0.221). The second study independently varied the two characteristics of the communicative gesture (the gesture itself and the tone of voice). In addition to replicating dogs’ better performance with the cooperative gestures, this study suggests that tone of voice and context had more effect than type of gesture. In the context of food acquisition, domestic dogs, like human children, seem more prepared to use human gestures when they are given cooperatively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-245
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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