Here’s how dogs are able to follow human gaze

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Washington | Published: June 13, 2015 4:57:23 PM

Gaze following to distant space may be a basic response found in many taxa, but dogs may present a special case as they are able to follow human gaze to objects such as food or toys, but not for the comparatively simpler task of following gaze into distant space.

Gaze following to distant space may be a basic response found in many taxa, but dogs may present a special case as they are able to follow human gaze to objects such as food or toys, but not for the comparatively simpler task of following gaze into distant space.

Two possible reasons were offered to explain this phenomenon: One reason could be habituation. Dogs lose their innate gaze following response as they age, as they are frequently exposed to human gaze cues over their lifespan and slowly stop responding to them.

Another reason could be formal training such as obedience, agility, and trick training may interfere with the dogs’ response to gaze cues, since dogs are usually trained to look at the owner, to wait for commands and ignore distractions.

Lead author Lisa Wallis and her colleagues at the Vetmeduni Vienna found that dogs which had a higher amount of formal training over their lifespan showed a lower gaze following response compared to dogs with little or no training.

Similarly, short-term training also decreased dogs’ gaze following response and increased gaze to the human face.

The authors conclude that formal training had a stronger influence than aging or habituation on dogs’ gaze following response. This may explain why previous studies have failed to find a gaze following response when cues to distant space are used, and why in comparison to other species dogs perform relatively poorly in this task.

The study is published in Animal Behaviour.

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