Dogs respond appropriately to cues of humans' attentional focus

Behav Processes. 2004 May 31;66(2):161-72. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2004.01.012.


Dogs' ability to recognise cues of human visual attention was studied in different experiments. Study 1 was designed to test the dogs' responsiveness to their owner's tape-recorded verbal commands (Down!) while the Instructor (who was the owner of the dog) was facing either the dog or a human partner or none of them, or was visually separated from the dog. Results show that dogs were more ready to follow the command if the Instructor attended them during instruction compared to situations when the Instructor faced the human partner or was out of sight of the dog. Importantly, however, dogs showed intermediate performance when the Instructor was orienting into 'empty space' during the re-played verbal commands. This suggests that dogs are able to differentiate the focus of human attention. In Study 2 the same dogs were offered the possibility to beg for food from two unfamiliar humans whose visual attention (i.e. facing the dog or turning away) was systematically varied. The dogs' preference for choosing the attentive person shows that dogs are capable of using visual cues of attention to evaluate the human actors' responsiveness to solicit food-sharing. The dogs' ability to understand the communicatory nature of the situations is discussed in terms of their social cognitive skills and unique evolutionary history.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Communication
  • Cues*
  • Dogs
  • Human-Animal Bond
  • Humans
  • Recognition, Psychology