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Clever hounds: social cognition in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris)

By Jonathan J. Cooper, Clare Ashton, Sarah Bishop, Rebecca West, Daniel S. Mills and Robert J. Young


This paper reviews the reasons why domestic dogs make good models to investigate cognitive processes related to social living and describes experimental approaches that can be adopted to investigate such processes in dogs. Domestic dogs are suitable models for investigating social cognition skills for three broad reasons. First, dogs originated from wolves, social animals that engage in a number of co-operative behaviours, such as hunting and that may have evolved cognitive abilities that help them predict and interpret the actions of other animals. Second, during domestication dogs are likely to have been selected for mental adaptations for their roles in human society such as herding or companionship. Third, domestic dogs live in a human world and “enculturation” may facilitate the development of relevant mental skills in dogs. Studies of social cognition in animals commonly use experimental paradigms originally developed for pre-verbal human infants. Preferential gaze, for example, can be used as a measure of attention or “surprise” in studies using expectancy violation. This approach has been used to demonstrate simple numerical competence in dogs. Dogs also readily use both conspecific and human social signals (e.g. looking or pointing) as information sources to locate hidden rewards such as food or favourite toys. Such abilities make dogs particularly good models for investigating perspective-taking tasks, where animals are required to discriminate between apparently knowledgeable and apparently ignorant informants

Topics: C120 Behavioural Biology, D300 Animal Science
Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2003
DOI identifier: 10.1016/S0168-1591(02)00284-8
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