Author Information

Sarah Scott


The unique phylogenetic and ontogenetic history of domestic dogs has had an effect on the way they communicate with one another. Research suggests that domestic dogs’ ability to communicate through visual signals may vary by breed (Goodwin, Bradshaw, & Wickens 1997; Kerswell, Bennet, Butler, & Hemsworth 2009). In the current study, we investigate the effect of a visual communication signal, the look away, observed in both domestic dogs and their ancestor, the wolf, in order to examine whether or not domesticated dogs respond to this visual signal. Research indicates that domestic dogs respond appropriately to artificial dog models (Leaver & Reimchen, 2008). Therefore, we allowed live domestic dogs to approach an artificial model dog as it “looked away,” turning its head approximately 45% to the left, from the approaching live dog participant. In order to reveal any pattern of behavioral responses among domestic dogs to the look away behavior, the observable behavior displayed by the live dog participant (in the moments following the model dog’s look away) was recorded on video. Slow-motion review of the footage revealed that 36% of live dogs displayed some type of observable behavior (ranging from a brief break in eye contact to a blatant turn away from the model dog) after seeing the model dog look away, while 64% of live dogs displayed no observable behavior after seeing the model dog look away. A larger percentage of large dogs (dogs larger than the model dog) appeared to avert their gaze or look away after observing the model dog look away, and a larger percentage of small dogs (dogs smaller than the model dog) showed no observable response after observing the model dog look away. Goodwin et al. 1997 investigated the use of wolf-like visual signals in 10 breeds of domestic dog, rated according to their physical similarity to the wolf by a group of dog behavior counselors. It was found that wolf-like visual signals were observed less frequently in domestic dogs that are less wolf-like in their physical appearance. Dogs rated least wolf-like in their appearance also happened to be the smallest breeds examined in the study, while dogs rated as the more wolf-like in their appearance were larger in size. Using size as a heuristic indicator of physical similarity to the wolf, our data may indicate a possibility that less wolf-like domestic dogs may also respond to wolf-like visual signals less frequently.

Note on the Author

Sarah Scott returned to Bridgewater State University to study psychology after completing a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Bridgewater in 2008. She spent the summer of 2012 conducting a research study that investigated visual communication in domestic dogs. She was mentored by Dr. Amanda Shyne of the psychology department. Her project was supported by the Adrian Tinsley Program summer research grant and was presented at Bridgewater State University’s 2012 Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium and the 2013 National Conference on Undergraduate Research in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Sarah was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in January 2013.

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