Thursday, 23 June 2016

Side matters: potential mechanisms underlying dogs' performance in a social eavesdropping paradigm

Volume 90, April 2014, Pages 263–271


We examined dogs' ability to evaluate humans on the basis of indirect experience.
One experimenter gave food to a beggar, the other withheld the food.
In the control condition the donors swapped places in half of the trials.
We found no evidence for social eavesdropping in dogs.

Social eavesdropping is the gathering of information by observing interactions between other individuals. Previous studies have claimed that dogs, Canis familiaris, are able to use information obtained via social eavesdropping, that is, preferring a generous over a selfish human donor. However, in these studies the side was constant between the demonstrations and the dogs' choices, not controlling for potential location biases. In the crucial control condition of our experiments, the donors swapped places in half of the trials before the dogs chose. We found that first choice behaviour as well as the time dogs interacted with the generous donor were influenced by location (side). In a second experiment the subject's owner interacted with the two donors. Again, the result of the side control revealed that the critical factor was location (side) not person. The results of these experiments provide no evidence for social eavesdropping in dogs and show the importance of critical control conditions.


  • Canis familiaris;
  • dog–human relationship;
  • social cognition;
  • social eavesdropping
Correspondence: M. Nitzschner, Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.