Reputation-like inference in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris)

Anim Cogn. 2011 Mar;14(2):291-302. doi: 10.1007/s10071-010-0362-5. Epub 2010 Dec 8.


Humans frequently interact with strangers absent prior direct experience with their behavior. Some conjecture that this may have favored evolution of a cognitive system within the hominoid clade or perhaps the primate order to assign reputations based on third-party exchanges. However, non-primate species' acquisition of skills from experienced individuals, attention to communicative cues, and propensity to infer social rules suggests reputation inference may be more widespread. We utilized dogs' sensitivity to humans' social and communicative cues to explore whether dogs evidenced reputation-like inference for strangers through third-party interactions. Results indicated dogs spontaneously show reputation-like inference for strangers from indirect exchanges. Further manipulations revealed that dogs continued to evidence this ability despite reduction of specific components of the observed interactions, including reduction of visual social cues (i.e., face-to-face contact between the participants in the interaction) and the nature of the recipient (i.e., living, animate agent versus living, inanimate self-propelled agent). Dogs also continued to demonstrate reputation-like inference when local enhancement was controlled and in a begging paradigm. However, dogs did not evidence reputation-like inference when the observed interaction was inadvertent.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Choice Behavior
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Perception*