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The ability to make sense of and predict others' actions is foundational for many socio-cognitive abilities. Dogs (Canis familiaris) constitute interesting comparative models for the study of action perception due to their marked sensitivity to human actions. We tested companion dogs (N = 21) in two screen-based eye-tracking experiments, adopting a task previously used with human infants and apes, to assess which aspects of an agent's action dogs consider relevant to the agent's underlying intentions. An agent was shown repeatedly acting upon the same one of two objects, positioned in the same location. We then presented the objects in swapped locations and the agent approached the objects centrally (Experiment 1) or the old object in the new location or the new object in the old location (Experiment 2). Dogs' anticipatory fixations and looking times did not reflect an expectation that agents should have continued approaching the same object nor the same location as witnessed during the brief familiarization phase; this contrasts with some findings with infants and apes, but aligns with findings in younger infants before they have sufficient motor experience with the observed action. However, dogs' pupil dilation and latency to make an anticipatory fixation suggested that, if anything, dogs expected the agents to keep approaching the same location rather than the same object, and their looking times showed sensitivity to the animacy of the agents. We conclude that dogs, lacking motor experience with the observed actions of grasping or kicking performed by a human or inanimate agent, might interpret such actions as directed toward a specific location rather than a specific object. Future research will need to further probe the suitability of anticipatory looking as measure of dogs' socio-cognitive abilities given differences between the visual systems of dogs and primates.

Original publication




Journal article


Anim Cogn

Publication Date





Action perception, Dog cognition, Eye-tracking, Goal-directed actions, Social cognition, Humans, Dogs, Animals, Cognition, Hominidae