Still-Face Interactions with Household Dogs: Assessing Dogs’ Attention to Their Owner
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Research shows that dogs attend to humans’ attention in the sense of what object the human points to in laboratory situations that scaffold dogs' attention to humans’ pointing. We suspected that dogs attend to humans’ attention, specifically their owners, more widely and do so spontaneously. To examine this, we created a situation akin to still-face studies that document infants' attention to their mothers' attention to them. We videotaped 41 owner-dog pairs while the dog and its owner sat face-to-face and played normally for 1 min. Then the owner froze into a still-face posture (looking blankly at a spot above the dog’s head while freezing their body motions as well) and held that for 1 min. For most sessions we were able to get a second play/still-face episode after a 5-min break. We coded the videos for a variety of relevant dog behaviors, and report data on five focal behaviors that differed in play versus still-face segments: how often the dogs presented a toy to its owner; how often the dogs licked their owner anywhere but the mouth; how often the dogs whined; the amount of time the dogs were engaged with their owners; and if the dog turned away from the owner. Dogs increased how often they presented a toy to its owner, how often they licked their owner, how often they whined, and whether they turned away from the owner during the still-face segments versus the play segments. Also, dogs significantly decreased the amount of time they were engaged with their owners in the still-face segments in contrast to the play segments. These findings show that dogs spontaneously keep track of their owners’ attention to them in everyday situations as manifest in a variety of behaviors.