Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) are sensitive to the attentional state of humans

J Comp Psychol. 2003 Sep;117(3):257-63. doi: 10.1037/0735-7036.117.3.257.


Twelve domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) were given a series of trials in which they were forbidden to take a piece of visible food. In some trials, the human continued to look at the dog throughout the trial (control condition), whereas in others, the human (a) left the room, (b) turned her back, (c) engaged in a distracting activity, or (d) closed her eyes. Dogs behaved in clearly different ways in most of the conditions in which the human did not watch them compared with the control condition, in which she did. In particular, when the human looked at them, dogs retrieved less food, approached it in a more indirect way, and sat (as opposed to laid down) more often than in the other conditions. Results are discussed in terms of domestic dogs' social-cognitive skills and their unique evolutionary and ontogenetic histories.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior*
  • Attention*
  • Concept Formation*
  • Cues
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • Female
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Nonverbal Communication