Watching dogs watch
A scientist from the Central European University in Budapest made use of a technique used earlier only with children. In a test, the dogs were spoken to by a person (a stranger) on the television screen. Objects had been placed to the left and right of this person. The person looked at the dog and said, “Hello, dog” with enthusiastic intonation. In another scenario, the dog was addressed in a flat tone while the person looked down. Next, the person looked at one of the objects for 5 seconds. A special camera mounted under the television screen recorded the gaze of the dog.
This experiment was conducted on 22 dogs of various breeds. The dogs always looked at the person on the screen. But when the person looked at and greeted the dog enthusiastically, the dogs followed the person’s gaze to the object 69% of the time. When the person looked down and spoke blandly, the dogs didn’t look at either object more frequently.
The results of the study, published in Current Biology, are virtually comparable to experiments done with 6-month-old children. The investigators were surprised at this similarity. They also have plans for more experiments, varying the tone of the greeting and whether or not the person will look at the dog.