Effect of Dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) Environment on Social Cognition

Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2018


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Domestic dogs have a stronger understanding of human social cues, prosociality, and collaboration than the somewhat anti-social and competitive chimpanzee, human’s closest evolutionary relatives. The origin of dogs’ deep understanding of human social cues has been a topic of debate in the field of comparative cognition. Two opposing hypotheses attempt to explain this: domestication and human exposure. The domestication hypothesis asserts that dogs’ understanding of human social cues, intentions, and emotions arises from their side-by-side evolution with humans. In contrast, the human exposure hypothesis asserts that dogs’ level of understanding is determined by their individual life history with humans. The current study takes an ontogenetic approach and explores the effects of a dog’s recent human exposure, (e.g., in a shelter vs as a pet), on their social cognition. The study’s procedure includes three social cognition measures; an “Impossible Toy” task, an object-choice task, and a gaze-following task, as well as a nonsocial control: a self-control task. Results of the study reveal no differences in social cognition between shelter dogs and pet dogs, providing support for the domestication hypothesis and casting doubt on the human exposure hypothesis. Implications for shelter dogs and further studies are discussed.



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