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Abstract

Domestic dogs comprehend human gestural communication in a way that other animal species do not. But little is known about the specific cues they use to determine when human communication is intended for them. In a series of four studies, we confronted both adult dogs and young dog puppies with object choice tasks in which a human indicated one of two opaque cups by either pointing to it or gazing at it. We varied whether the communicator made eye contact with the dog in association with the gesture (or whether her back was turned or her eyes were directed at another recipient) and whether the communicator called the dog’s name (or the name of another recipient). Results demonstrated the importance of eye contact in human–dog communication, and, to a lesser extent, the calling of the dog’s name – with no difference between adult dogs and young puppies – which are precisely the communicative cues used by human infants for identifying communicative intent. Unlike human children, however, dogs did not seem to comprehend the human’s communicative gesture when it was directed to another human, perhaps because dogs view all human communicative acts as directives for the recipient.