Abstract

To investigate whether dogs could recognize contingent reactivity as a marker of agents’ interaction, we performed an experiment in which dogs were presented with third-party contingent events. In the perfect-contingency condition, dogs were shown an unfamiliar self-propelled agent (SPA) that performed actions corresponding to audio clips of verbal commands played by a computer. In the high-but-imperfect-contingency condition, the SPA responded to the verbal commands on only two thirds of the trials; in the low-contingency condition, the SPA responded to the commands on only one third of the trials. In the test phase, the SPA approached one of two tennis balls, and then the dog was allowed to choose one of the balls. The proportion of trials on which a dog chose the object indicated by the SPA increased with the degree of contingency: Dogs chose the target object significantly above chance level only in the perfect-contingency condition. This finding suggests that dogs may use the degree of temporal contingency observed in third-party interactions as a cue to identify agents.