Vol 10, Issue 3, August 2023

ManyDogs 1: A Multi-Lab Replication Study of Dogs' Pointing Comprehension


ManyDogs Project, Espinosa, J., Stevens, J. R., Alberghina, D., Always, H. E. E., Barela, J. D., Bogese, M., Bray, E. E., Buchsbaum, D., Byosiere, S-E., Byrne, M., Cavalli, C. M., Chaudoir, L. M., Collins-Pisano, C., DeBoer, H. J., Douglas, L. E. L. C., Dror, S., Dzik, M. V., Ferguson, B., … Zylberfuden, S. G. (2023). ManyDogs 1: A Multi-Lab Replication Study of Dogs’ Pointing Comprehension. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 10(3), 232-286.  https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


To promote collaboration across canine science, address replicability issues, and advance open science practices within animal cognition, we have launched the ManyDogs consortium, modeled on similar ManyX projects in other fields. We aimed to create a collaborative network that (a) uses large, diverse samples to investigate and replicate findings, (b) promotes open science practices of pre-registering hypotheses, methods, and analysis plans, (c) investigates the influence of differences across populations and breeds, and (d) examines how different research methods and testing environments influence the robustness of results. Our first study combines a phenomenon that appears to be highly reliable—dogs’ ability to follow human pointing—with a question that remains controversial: do dogs interpret pointing as a social communicative gesture or as a simple associative cue? We collected data (N = 455) from 20 research sites on two conditions of a 2-alternative object choice task: (1) Ostensive (pointing to a baited cup after making eye-contact and saying the dog’s name); (2) Non-ostensive (pointing without eye-contact, after a throat-clearing auditory control cue). Comparing performance between conditions, while both were significantly above chance, there was no significant difference in dogs’ responses. This result was consistent across sites. Further, we found that dogs followed contralateral, momentary pointing at lower rates than has been reported in prior research, suggesting that there are limits to the robustness of point-following behavior: not all pointing styles are equally likely to elicit a response. Together, these findings underscore the important role of procedural details in study design and the broader need for replication studies in canine science.


Domestic dog; Replicability; Human pointing; Social cognition; Interspecific interaction; Object choice task