Borbála Turcsán, Flóra Szánthó, Ádám Miklósi, Enikő Kubinyi
Title of Experiment:
Fetching what the owner prefers? Dogs recognise disgust and happiness in human behaviour (Category: Communication, Animal Species: dog)
Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Ethology, Budapest, Hungary; Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary; MTA–ELTE Comparative Ethological Research Group, Budapest, Hungary
Studies have shown that dogs are able to discriminate between human emotional expressions, understand them as referential to a given object and rely on these cues when making a choice. However, previous studies provided rather ambiguous results regarding the dogs’ ability to recognize the valence of the negative human emotions, presumably because they did not take into account the dogs’ own interest in the object eliciting the negative human emotion. In our experiment dogs observed their owner expressing different emotions towards two uniform plastic bottles. The bottles eliciting the more positive emotion was baited with a piece of food, the other bottle contained a small stone. Four dog groups were tested based on the condition they received: 1) happy vs neutral, 2) happy vs disgust, 3) neutral vs disgust and 4) neutral vs neutral (with the same two baiting), as a control group. Contrary to previous studies using free–choice paradigm, we used a task-driven approach. After the demonstration the dogs had to fetch one object to the owner to receive its content. We analyzed which object the dogs first touched and which they fetched to the owner. The dogs’ performance in the Neutral–Neutral (control) group did not differ from the chance level, indicating that they were not able to use the odour of the bottles or other irrelevant cues when making their choice. In contrast, subjects were able to distinguish between the happy and neutral expression of the owner: they both approached and fetched the ‘happy’ object. In the Happy–Disgust and Neutral–Disgust groups the dogs’ first approach was random, suggesting that they found the ‘disgusting’ object equally attractive. Nevertheless, the dogs preferentially fetched the object marked with the relatively more positive emotion (happy or neutral) to the owner in both conditions. Our results demonstrate that dogs are able to recognize which is the more positive among two emotions, and in a fetching task situation they override their own interest in the ‘disgusting’ object, and fetch what the owner prefers.
emotion recognition dog cooperation disgust happiness