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Selective attention to humans in companion dogs, Canis familiaris

By P. Mongillo, G. Bono, L. Regolin, L. Marinelli

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Integration into human societies requires dogs to express adaptable social attitudes, involving high levels of attention to other individuals. In the present study, we developed a new behavioural test, to characterize selective attention towards humans. In the task, the dogs were exposed to the owner and an unfamiliar person, repeatedly entering the experimental room and leaving through different doors; at the end of the sequence the dogs were allowed to approach the doors. Attention was measured as the average length of gaze bouts and as the overall duration of visual orientation towards the different targets. Dogs gave preferential attention to the owner, who received longer gaze bouts and greater overall attention than the stranger. The preference was confirmed by the significant proportion of dogs that directed attention to the owner's door at the end of the task. A modified version of the task was employed to measure dogs' attention when the person's head was not visible. This condition caused a decrease in attention parameters towards the owner. To determine the effects of old age on attention, the two tasks were then administered to dogs aged 7 years and older. Compared to adults, aged dogs showed lower owner-directed attention when the owner was not in sight and were more likely not to move at the end of the task. The results provide the first evidence that dogs' interspecific attention depends on the nature of the dog-human relationship, on the availability of some distinctive features of the social stimulus and on the age of the dog.

Date 2010
Publication Title Animal Behaviour
Volume 80
Issue 6
Pages 1057-1063
ISBN/ISSN 0003-3472
DOI 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.09.014
Language English
Author Address Dipartimento di Scienze Sperimentali Veterinarie, Universita degli Studi di Padova, Viale dell'Universita, 16, 35020 Legnaro (PD), Italy.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Age
  2. Aging
  3. Animal behavior
  4. Attitudes
  5. Awareness
  6. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  7. Carnivores
  8. Developed countries
  9. Dogs
  10. Europe
  11. Italy
  12. Mammals
  13. Mediterranean region
  14. OECD countries
  15. peer-reviewed
  16. Pets and companion animals
  17. Primates
  18. Social behavior
  19. stimulation
  1. peer-reviewed