Dogs are known to be excellent readers of human body language in multiple situations.
However, formal training can blunt dogs’ ability to follow the human gaze, a new study finds.
Scientists at the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna investigated how this skill of dogs is influenced by ageing, habituation and formal training.
The study found that gaze following to human gaze cues did not differ over the dogs’ lifespan, however, formal training was found to directly influence gaze following in dogs.
Gaze following to distant space has been documented in many species such as primates, domesticated goats, several bird species, dolphins, fur seals, the red-footed tortoise and wolves.
Dogs are able to follow human gaze to objects such as food or toys, but not for the comparatively simpler task of following a gaze into distant space.
Lead author Lisa Wallis and her colleagues investigated 145 Border Collies aged six months to 14 years to address the question of whether habituation, and/or training influences dogs’ gaze following response.
The scientists tested two groups of dogs with differing amounts of formal training over their lifespan.
Both groups participated firstly in a test and control condition, where their initial gaze following performance was measured.
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 ageing or habituation on dogs’ gaze following response.
The results were published in the journal Animal Behaviour.