Dogs account for body orientation but not visual barriers when responding to pointing gestures

MacLean, E. L., Krupenye, C. & Hare., B. (2014). Dogs account for body orientation but not visual barriers when responding to pointing gestures. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 128(3): 285–297. doi:10.1037/a0035742 [PDF]

In a series of 4 experiments we investigated whether dogs use information about a human’s visual perspective when responding to pointing gestures. While there is evidence that dogs may know what humans can and cannot see, and that they flexibly use human communicative gestures, it is unknown if they can integrate these two skills. In Experiment 1 we first determined that dogs were capable of using basic information about a human’s body orientation (indicative of her visual perspective) in a point following context. Subjects were familiarized with experimenters who either faced the dog and accurately indicated the location of hidden food, or faced away from the dog and (falsely) indicated the un-baited container. In test trials these cues were pitted against one another and dogs tended to follow the gesture from the individual who faced them while pointing. In Experiments 2–4 the experimenter pointed ambiguously toward two possible locations where food could be hidden. On test trials a visual barrier occluded the pointer’s view of one container, while dogs could always see both containers. We predicted that if dogs could take the pointer’s visual perspective they should search in the only container visible to the pointer. This hypothesis was supported only in Experiment 2. We conclude that while dogs are skilled both at following human gestures, and exploiting information about others’ visual perspectives, they may not integrate these skills in the manner characteristic of human children.