Get access

Domestic dogs comprehend human communication with iconic signs

Authors

  • Juliane Kaminski,

    1.  Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
    2.  Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Sebastian Tempelmann,

    1.  Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Josep Call,

    1.  Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Michael Tomasello

    1.  Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author

Address for correspondence: Juliane Kaminski, University of Cambridge, Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, High Street, Madingley, Cambridge CB3 8AA, UK; e-mail: kaminski@eva.mpg.de

Abstract

A key skill in early human development is the ability to comprehend communicative intentions as expressed in both nonlinguistic gestures and language. In the current studies, we confronted domestic dogs (some of whom knew many human ‘words’) with a task in which they had to infer the intended referent of a human's communicative act via iconic signs – specifically, replicas and photographs. Both trained and untrained dogs successfully used iconic replicas to fetch the desired item, with many doing so from the first trial. Dogs’ ability to use photographs in this same situation was less consistent. Because simple matching to sample in experimental contexts typically takes hundreds of trials (and because similarity between iconic sign and target item did not predict success), we propose that dogs’ skillful performance in the current task reflects important aspects of the comprehension of human communicative intentions.

Get access to the full text of this article

Ancillary