Similarity between an unfamiliar human and the owner affects dogs’ preference for human partner when responding to an unsolvable problem

Orsolya Kiss, Krisztina Kovács, Flóra Szánthó, J. Topál

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates whether dogs are able to differentiate between people according to whether or not they show similarities to their owners. We hypothesized that dogs would show a preference for the “similar” partner when interacting with unfamiliar humans. After having familiarized with two experimenters displaying different degrees of similarity to their owners, dogs (N = 36) participated in a situation where the desired toy object was made inaccessible in order to find out whether they initiate interaction with the two partners differently. Two different types of “similarity cues” were used (either alone or combined with each other): (1) persistent behavioral characteristics (i.e., familiar vs. strange motion pattern and language usage) and (2) an unfamiliar arbitrary group marker (i.e., one of the potential helpers was wearing clothing similar to that worn by the owner). Results show that although dogs payed equal attention to the human partners displaying various types of similarity to their owners during familiarization, they exhibited a visual attention preference for the human whose motion pattern and language usage were similar to their owner’s in the inaccessible-toy task. However, there was weak evidence of discrimination based on the arbitrary group marker (clothing). Although dogs’ different tendencies to interact with the potential helpers do not necessarily imply an underlying ability to create social categories based on the degree of similarity between the owner and unfamiliar people, these results suggest that functionally human infant-analogue forms of social categorization may have emerged in dogs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLearning and Behavior
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018


  • Dog (Canis familiaris)
  • Dog–human interaction
  • Similarity cue
  • Social categorization
  • Social preference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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