Adjustment in the point-following behaviour of free-ranging dogs - roles of social petting and informative-deceptive nature of cues

Debottam Bhattacharjee, Anindita Bhadra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Animals of different taxa can read and respond to various human communicative signals. Such a mechanism facilitates animals to acquire social information and helps them react in a context-dependent manner. Dogs have garnered extensive attention owing to their socio-cognitive skills and remarkable sensitivity to human social cues. For example, dogs readily respond to different human pointing gestures to locate hidden food rewards. However, a general inclination towards testing highly socialized pet dogs has resulted in a dearth of information on other sub-populations of dogs. Free-ranging dogs are one of the least socialized dog populations yet exhibit point-following behaviour flexibly. As a consequence of frequent negative interspecific interactions, they are typically wary of unfamiliar humans; thus, contextual recognition of human actions is paramount for these dogs to avoid potential conflict. However, the mechanisms influencing their point-following behaviour remain unidentified. We asked to what extent the informative-deceptive nature of cues and positive human interactions influence the interspecific communicative behaviour of these minimally socialized dogs. Using a point-following experiment with a 2 × 2 design, we focused on adult free-ranging dogs' behavioural adjustments. Dogs were randomly divided into two groups, with only one receiving brief social petting. Further, informative and deceptive cues were given to separate subsets within each group. Our findings suggest that brief social petting strongly affects the likelihood of free-ranging dogs' point-following tendencies. Dogs who received petting followed the pointing cues regardless of their informative or deceptive nature, whereas dogs who did not receive petting discriminated between informative and deceptive pointing. This study highlights the contribution of positive human interaction and informative-deceptive quality of cues in modulating the behavioural responses of free-ranging dogs in an interspecific communicative context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571–579
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
Early online date6 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Dogs
  • Human social petting
  • Interspecific communication
  • Point-following
  • Socio-cognitive skills


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