Research

BOOKS by Alexandra Horowitz:





Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know (2009)                         On Looking, Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (2013)

                                                 
      


Domestic dog cognition and behavior (A. Horowitz, Ed.) (2014)
The first edited academic volume on the study of dog behavior and cognition. This book highlights the state of the field in the new, provocative line of research. Eleven chapters from leading researchers describe innovative methods from comparative psychology, ethology, and behavioral biology, which are combined to create a more comprehensive picture of the behavior of Canis familiaris than ever before. (Click through for pdfs of Horowitz Preface and ToC; and Horowitz & Hecht, "Looking at dogs: From anthropomorphism to canid umwelt", under "Publications")





Horowitz Lab publications:

2016. (Horowitz & Hecht). Examining dog-human play: The characteristics, affect, and vocalizations of a unique interspecific interaction. Animal Cognition, 19, 779-788. 

  • Despite the growing interest in research on the interaction between humans and dogs, only a very few research projects focus on the routines between dogs and their owners. In this study, we investigated one such routine: dog–human play. Dyadic interspecific play is known to be a common interaction between owner and charge, but the details of what counts as play have not been thoroughly researched. Similarly, though people represent that “play” is pleasurable, no study has yet undertaken to determine whether different forms of play are associated with different affective states. Thus, we aimed to generate an inventory of the forms of dyadic play, the vocalizations within play, and to investigate the relationship of affect to elements of play. Via a global citizen science project, we solicited videotapes of dog–human play sessions from dog owners. We coded 187 play bouts via frame-by-frame video playback. We then assessed the relationship between various intra-bout variables and owner affect (positive or neutral) during play (dog affect was overwhelmingly positive). Amount of physical contact (“touch”), level of activity of owner (“movement”), and physical closeness of dog–owner dyad (“proximity”) were highly correlated with positive affect. Owner vocalizations were found to contain different elements in positive- and neutral-affect play. One novel category of play, “tease”, was found. We conclude that not all play is created equal: the experience of play to the owner participant is strongly related to a few identifiable characteristics of the interaction. 2015. (Hecht & Horowitz). Introduction to dog behavior. Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff (pp. 5-30), Weiss, Mohan-Gibbons, & Zawitowski, Eds. 

2015. (Hecht & Horowitz). Looking at dogs: Human preference for dog physical attributes. Anthrozoos, 28, 153-163.

  • This study systematically investigated peoples’ preferences for dog physical attributes in images of real-life dogs. Participants (n = 124) completed an aesthetic preference test where they viewed 80 image pairs of mixed-breed adult dogs and were asked to state which image they “liked best.” In each image pair, the two dog images were nearly identical, but unbeknownst to participants, the images differed slightly in that one physical characteristic had been manipulated.... The feature manipulations examined theories relating to Kindchenschema (an infantile appearance), ostensive human similarity, the process of domestication, as well as differences in attribute size and symmetry.

    This study is the first empirical test to systematically investigate preference for a variety of physical attributes one-at-a time in images of real-life dogs, including juvenile attributes related to Lorenz's theory of neoteny. Subjects showed a preference for some features associated with the infant schema—large eyes and wider-set eyes—and also for human-like attributes of colored irises and a distinct upturn of the commissure, seeming to capture a smile. ...

    The findings suggest that identifiable physical attributes of domestic dogs have aesthetic value and, additionally, that human preferences for aesthetic differences can be systematically investigated. Given that people attend to and ultimately care about the way dogs look, the effects of particular physical attributes on peoples’ preferences merit investigation.

2013. (Horowitz, Hecht, & Dedrick) Smelling more or less: Investigating the olfactory experience of the domestic dog. Learning & Motivation, 44, 207-217.

  • The performance of tracking dogs and drug-, disease-, and explosives-detection dogs is a testament to trained olfactory acuity. The olfactory experience of an untrained dog, by contrast, has not been well documented. In the current research we begin to remedy that by testing untrained pet olfactory perception of quantity. While previous research found that dogs could discriminate visible quantities of more or less food, our results find that, by contrast, companion dogs do not reliably discriminate quantities when the food can be smelled but not seen. Sixty-one percent of dogs (39 of 64), given a choice between closed plates with one and five morsels of food, approached plates with the larger quantity: not significantly more than approached plates with the lesser quantity (binomial, p = .169). We did find that during initial investigation of both food amounts, subjects gave more attention to the plate containing the larger quantity (binomial, p < 0.001). In a second condition, we replicated, with closed plates, Prato-Previde et s (2008) finding that owner interest in a plate holding a lesser quantity of food reliably leads dogs to approach that plate (binomial, p < 0.001). Though research has demonstrated preference for a larger amount of food, in a third condition testing the effect of adding a strong odor to a visibly larger food quantity, we found that the addition of odor often reversed that preference (44/69 dogs; p < .03). Finally, we consider the methodological implications of this work on future dog cognition studies.

2012. (Horowitz) Fair is fine, but more is better: Limits to inequity aversion in the domestic dog. Social Justice Research, 25, 195-212.

  • Research with domestic dogs provides an unique approach for exploring the evolution of fairness and justice. Not only are dogs descended from highly social Canids; they have also been bred for cooperative tasks with humans. Dogs act cooperatively in social play and are skilled on other social cognitive tasks. But do dogs perceive and respond to unfairness or injustice, a skill potentially borne of long-term affiliation with and selection by humans? In this research, thirty-eight subject dogs and a control dog approached two trainers in turn: one who rewarded them equally for sitting on command, and one who rewarded them unequally -- either over-rewarding or under-rewarding the control dog. After familiarization with the trainers, subjects chose which trainer to approach by themselves. Subjects preferred the over-rewarding trainer over the fair trainer; they had no preference between the under-rewarding and the fair trainer. Age and cooperative work experience reversed the approach preference; breed did not. These results suggest that the precursory sensitivity which dogs showed to inequitous outcomes in prior research does not extend to both advantageous and disadvantageous inequity, and does not hold when the subject is continually rewarded. Dogs selected a trainer who had treated them "unfairly," yet who presented a potentially greater opportunity for future rewards. Dogs showed a greater sensitivity to the quantity of a reward than to the fairness of a reward.

2012. (Hecht, Miklosi, & Gacsi) Behavioral assessment and owner perceptions of behaviors associated with guilt in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 139. 134-142.

  • Dog owners ascribe guilt to dogs, and we explored this attribution with pet dogs and their owners using a questionnaire and experiment. The questionnaire found that the majority of owners perceive dog behavior as guilty in certain situations and believe that dogs know when they have committed a disapproved act. As a novel finding, the questionnaire revealed that dog presentation of guilty behavior could lead owners to scold dogs less. The experiment aimed to investigate the owner-reported anecdote that dogs sometimes greet owners displaying guilty behavior. Owners claim to be unaware of a dog's misdeed and assert it is the guilty behavior that informs them of the dog's infraction. We studied whether dogs that were disobedient in absences showed associated behaviors of guilt (ABs) upon return to a room. We also assessed whether owners could determine their dog's disobedience by relying solely on the dog's greeting behavior. Behavioral analysis revealed no significant difference between obedient and disobedient dogs in their display of ABs after having the opportunity to break a rule in absences. Analyses at the individual level, however, revealed a significant increase in cross situational presentation of ABs only by dogs that transgressed in absences. While owners appeared able to determine whether or not their dogs ate in their absences, a subset ownersownersownersownersowners. Of those whose decisions were most likely based solely on dog greeting behavior and not earlier cues experiment-generated were not better than chance in their determinations. Taken together, our findings suggest that dog presentation of ABs during greetings is not necessarily a reliable indicator whether or not a dog engaged in a misdeed. The investigated phenomenon appears to be very sensitive to the social condition, which includes owner prior experience with their dog in specific contexts.

2012. (Hecht & Horowitz) Physical prompts to anthropomorphism of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) Third Canine Science Forum, Barcelona, Spain.

  • Humans readily anthropomorphize dogs, assigning them human characteristics. Theories of which physical characteristics prompt anthropomorphism usually invoke neoteny or features involved in the "cute response." In this study, those theories are explicitly tested by comparing the "likeability" of visible physical features. Human subjects (N=124) participated in an aesthetic preference test in which they saw computer-modified image pairs of mixed-breed adult dogs. In each image-pair presentation, one of fourteen features associated with neoteny, the cute response, or other physical characteristics was modified. The results reveal that some, but not all, characteristics of neoteny were preferred: larger eyes were selected over smaller; but a larger forehead ("cranial vault") was not. Nor were other features consistent with the theory of neoteny preferred, such as small nose or big paws. Subjects also evinced a preference for images of dogs with smaller jowls, larger distance between the eyes, distinct and colored irises, and a mouth approximating a smile. By contrast, symmetry of ears and piebald facial coloration, as well as size of ears, eyebrows, tongue, and nostril, did not lead to uniform subject preference. A catalogue of physical features which lead to anthropomorphizing could be used to design expressive robots, elicit aid for threatened species, advertise adoptable shelter animals or re-consider dog-breeding practices.

2011. (Horowitz) Theory of mind in dogs? Examining method and concept. Learning & Behavior, 39, 314-317.

  • In line with other research, Udell, Dorey, and Wynne's (in press) finding that dogs and wolves pass on some trials of a putative theory-of-mind test and fail on others is as informative about the methods and concepts of the research as about the subjects. This commentary expands on these points. The intertrial differences in the target article demonstrate how critical the choice of cues is in experimental design; the intersubject-group differences demonstrate how life histories can interact with experimental design. Even the best-designed theory-of-mind tests have intractable logical problems. Finally, these and previous research results call for the introduction of an intermediate stage of ability, a rudimentary theory of mind, to describe performance.

2009. (Horowitz) Disambiguating the "guilty look": Salient prompts to a familiar dog behavior. Behavioural Processes, 81, 447-452.

  • Anthropomorphisms are regularly used by owners in describing their dogs. Of interest is whether attributions of understanding and emotions to dogs are sound, or are unwarranted applications of human psychological terms to non-humans. One attribution commonly made to dogs is that the "guilty look" shows that dogs feel guilt at doing a disallowed action. In the current study, this anthropomorphism is empirically tested. The behaviors of fourteen domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) were videotaped over a series of trials and analyzed for elements that correspond to an owner-identified "guilty look." Trials varied the opportunity for dogs to disobey an owner's command not to eat a desirable treat while the owner was out of the room, and varied the owners' knowledge of what their dogs did in their absence. The results revealed no difference in behaviors associated with the guilty look. By contrast, more such behaviors were seen in trials when owners scolded their dogs. The effect of scolding was more pronounced when the dogs were obedient, not disobedient. These results indicate that a better description of the so-called guilty look is that it is a response to owner cues, rather than that it shows an appreciation of a misdeed.

2009. (Horowitz) Attention to attention in domestic dogs' (Canis familiaris) dyadic play. Animal Cognition, 12, 107-118.

  • The social cognitive capacities of dogs, including their communication skills and use of visual attention cues, have recently been investigated in numerous experimental studies. This paper reports on research of domestic dog behavior in a natural setting, which shows sensitivity to the visual attention of their partners when engaged in dyadic rough-and-tumble play. The sequential behaviors and head-direction of both dogs were noted throughout the bouts. The behaviors were differentially used according to the partner's posture. Play signals were sent nearly exclusively to forward-facing conspecifics; attention-getting behaviors were used most often when a playmate was facing away, and before signaling an interest to play. In addition, the mode of attention-getter matched the degree of inattentiveness of the playmate: stronger attention-getters were used when a playmate was looking away or distracted, less forceful ones when the partner was facing forward or laterally. In other words, these dogs showed attention to, and acted to manipulate, a feature of other dogs that mediates their ability to respond: which feature in human interaction is called "attention".

2007. (Horowitz & Bekoff) Naturalizing anthropomorphism: Behavioral prompts to our humanizing of animals. Anthrozoös, 20, 23-35.

  • Anthropomorphism is the use of human characteristics to describe or explain nonhuman animals. In the present paper, we propose a model for a unified study of such anthropomorphizing. We bring together previously disparate accounts of why and how we anthropomorphize and suggest a means to analyze anthropomorphizing behavior itself. We introduce an analysis of bouts of dyadic play between humans and a heavily anthropomorphized animal, the domestic dog. Four distinct patterns of social interaction recur in successful dog-human play: directed responses by one player to the other, indications of intent, mutual behaviors, and contingent activity. These findings serve as a preliminary answer to the question, "What behaviors prompt anthropomorphisms?" An analysis of anthropomorphizing is potentially useful in establishing a scientific basis for this behavior, in explaining its endurance, in the design of "lifelike" robots, and in the analysis of human interaction. Finally, the relevance of this developing scientific area to contemporary debates about anthropomorphizing behavior is discussed.