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. 2013 Nov 13;8(11):e79198.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079198. eCollection 2013.

Dogs' Eavesdropping From People's Reactions in Third Party Interactions

Free PMC article

Dogs' Eavesdropping From People's Reactions in Third Party Interactions

Esteban Freidin et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


Eavesdropping involves the acquisition of information from third-party interactions, and can serve to indirectly attribute reputation to individuals. There is evidence on eavesdropping in dogs, indicating that they can develop a preference for people based on their cooperativeness towards others. In this study, we tested dogs' eavesdropping abilities one step further. In a first experiment, dogs could choose between cooperative demonstrators (the donors) who always gave food to an approaching third person (the beggar); here, the only difference between donors was whether they received positive or negative reactions from the beggar (through verbal and gestural means). Results showed that dogs preferentially approached the donor who had received positive reactions from the beggar. By contrast, two different conditions showed that neither the beggar's body gestures nor the verbal component of the interaction on their own were sufficient to affect the dogs' preferences. We also ran two further experiments to test for the possibility of dogs' choices being driven by local enhancement. When the donors switched places before the choice, dogs chose at random. Similarly, in a nonsocial condition in which donors were replaced by platforms, subjects chose at chance levels. We conclude that dogs' nonrandom choices in the present protocol relied on the simultaneous presence of multiple cues, such as the place where donors stood and several features of the beggar's behavior (gestural and verbal reactions, and eating behavior). Nonetheless, we did not find conclusive evidence that dogs discriminated the donors by their physical features, which is a prerequisite of reputation attribution.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Photos of the experimental set and procedure.
(A) The beggar receives food from the positive donor. (B) The beggar turns his back to the negative donor after having rejected the food. (C) The dog chooses the positive donor after the beggar left the room. All persons that appear in this figure have given written informed consent, as outlined in the PLOS consent form, to publication of their photograph.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Frequency of choices for the positive and the negative donors as a function of group.
Groups differed on whether the beggar’s reaction to the donors involved gestural and verbal cues (GV), gestural cues alone (G), or verbal cues alone (V). The horizontal line in the middle of the figure denotes the 0.50 chance level. * P<0.05, two-tailed binomial test.

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Grant support

The work was financially supported by Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas and Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica: PICT 2010, N 0350. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.