Adapting to the human world: dogs' responsiveness to our social cues

Behav Processes. 2009 Mar;80(3):325-33. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2008.11.002. Epub 2008 Nov 14.


Dogs are more skilful than a host of other species at tasks which require they respond to human communicative gestures in order to locate hidden food. Four basic interpretations for this proficiency surface from distilling the research findings. One possibility is that dogs simply have more opportunity than other species to learn to be responsive to human social cues. A different analysis suggests that the domestication process provided an opening for dogs to apply general cognitive problem-solving skills to a novel social niche. Some researchers go beyond this account and propose that dogs' co-evolution with humans equipped them with a theory of mind for social exchanges. Finally, a more prudent approach suggests that sensitivity to the behaviours of both humans and conspecifics would be particularly advantageous for a social scavenger like the dog. A predisposition to attend to human actions allows for rapid early learning of the association between gestures and the availability of food.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Communication*
  • Cues*
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology