Effect of social bond strength on responses to human-given cues in domestic working dog breeds

  • Corrie Scoular

Student thesis: Masters ThesisMasters by Research


The current research investigated the difference between domestic working and non-working dog breeds’ processing of non-auditory communicative cues given by humans. We also assessed whether domestic working dog breeds were more aware of cues given by their caregiver or an unfamiliar person. The research furthered the findings of Cunningham and Ramos (2014), Scoular (2018) and Topál et al. (1998) that working dog breeds followed overt, non-auditory cues from human’s better dependant on the relationship between cue giver and dog. Thirty-six dogs (Working breed; N = 21, Non-working breed; N = 15) and their caregivers were recruited through social media advertised on dog-related groups such as Spaniel Aid Foster Chat page. Only dogs who were friendly and generally happy around humans were recruited. The strength of the bond between caregiver and dog was measured using an adapted version of Ainsworths (1973) Strange Situation (Topál et al. 1998). A series of non-verbal, static cues (Point, Point and Gaze and Gaze) varying in subtlety were delivered in a cue following task. For additional analysis, information about the dog and caregivers’ relationship was collected via a demographic questionnaire. It was hypothesised that Working dog breeds that are selectively bred for responsiveness to human-given cues would follow non-verbal cues better than non-working dog breeds. It was also hypothesised that experience with a human caregiver would mediate the relationship between breed and cue-following ability in that those with a secure attachment to their caregiver would be better at following human-given cues.

Both research hypotheses were supported, demonstrating that working dog breeds are better than non-working breeds at receiving non-auditory cues when delivered by their caregiver. Attachment type had a significant impact on cue following ability. The results in combination demonstrate that working dogs are less affected by experiences at the developmental level than non-working dogs; the drive to fulfil the cue in working dog breeds is more critical than the relationship with the cue giver. Overall, it was concluded that the breed group and the relationship to the cue giver provided the most influence on the ability to follow human given cues. The results demonstrate that point cues are an established form of communication between humans and domestic dog as cues containing points were consistently better performed regardless of breed, cue giver or attachment type. A previously established relationship was also a requirement to produce cue following ability above the level of chance which could change the way animal-human cognitive research is conducted across various species.
Date of Award23 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorClare Cunningham (Supervisor) & Lara Wood (Supervisor)

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