The domestication hypothesis for dogs’ skills with human communication

Hare, B., Rosati, A. G., Kaminski, J., Braeuer, J., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2010). The domestication hypothesis for dogs’ skills with human communication: a response to Udell et al. (2008) and Wynne et al. (2008). Animal Behaviour , 79, e1-e6.

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Domestic dogs have special skills in comprehending human communicative behaviours. Dogs across a range of breeds use human communicative cues such as pointing or physical markers to find food that is hidden in one of two hiding places. Wolves, in contrast, do not readily exhibit this ability, suggesting that domestication may have shaped the expression of these skills in dogs. Recently, two papers challenge the ideas (1) that dogs outperform wolves in using human communicative gestures (Udell et al. 2008) and (2) that dogs require very limited human exposure to show initial skill in using such communicative cues (Wynne et al. 2008). To evaluate the evidence presented in these studies, we first discuss several methodological concerns that we have about the approach of Udell et al. (2008), then we reanalyse their data based on these methodological concerns. We also present a test of shelter dogs naıve to cognitive testing to examine whether it is the case that shelter dogs are less skilled at using human communicative cues than other groups of dogs. Finally, we directly rebut the critique of Wynne et al. (2008) and argue that there remains no evidence of significant differences in performance between dogs of different ages in their use of human communicative cues. We conclude that the domestication hypothesis remains the best explanation for dogs’ special skills for communicating with humans.