Background. This study examines how dogs observe images of natural scenes containing living creatures (wild animals, dogs and humans) recorded with eye gaze tracking. Because dogs have had limited exposure to wild animals in their lives, we also consider the natural novelty of the wild animal images for the dogs.
Methods. The eye gaze of dogs was recorded while they viewed natural images containing dogs, humans, and wild animals. Three categories of images were used: naturalistic landscape images containing single humans or animals, full body images containing a single human or an animal, and full body images containing a pair of humans or animals. The gazing behavior of two dog populations, family and kennel dogs, were compared.
Results. As a main effect, dogs gazed at living creatures (object areas) longer than the background areas of the images; heads longer than bodies; heads longer than background areas; and bodies longer than background areas. Dogs gazed less at the object areas vs. the background in landscape images than in the other image categories. Both dog groups also gazed wild animal heads longer than human or dog heads in the images. When viewing single animal and human images, family dogs focused their gaze very prominently on the head areas, but in images containing a pair of animals or humans, they gazed more at the body than the head areas. In kennel dogs, the difference in gazing times of the head and body areas within single or paired images failed to reach significance.
Discussion. Dogs focused their gaze on living creatures in all image categories, also detecting them in the natural landscape images. Generally, they also gazed at the biologically informative areas of the images, such as the head, which supports the importance of the head/face area for dogs in obtaining social information. The natural novelty of the species represented in the images as well as the image category affected the gazing behavior of dogs. Furthermore, differences in the gazing strategy between family and kennel dogs was obtained, suggesting an influence of different social living environments and life experiences.
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