What Is Special About Dog Cognition?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


I review three domains in which it has been proposed that dogs possess unique cognitive abilities in understanding people. The ability of dogs to follow human pointing gestures is widely reported, but so too is evidence of this behavior in a range of other species. Several studies have investigated the ability of dogs to discriminate between people who can see them and others whose vision is obscured. Dogs’ successes and failures on this task are best accounted for by considering the conditions under which different populations of dogs live. I conclude by reviewing studies of dogs’ ability to select whether or not to imitate the actions of another dog depending on whether the demonstrator dog appeared to have a motive for behaving in a less-than-optimal fashion. In all three cases, the evidence for unique human-like cognitive skills in dogs is limited, either because of evidence that other species complete these tests successfully or because the evidence for success in dogs is modest. Dogs are better viewed as equipped with the same cognitive skills as many other species, but, by living in proximity to and often being totally dependent on human beings, they acquire exquisite sensitivity to human action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-350
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • attentional state
  • canine cognition
  • dogs
  • domestication
  • point-following
  • selective imitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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