Domestication is an important factor driving changes in animal cognition and behaviour. In particular, the capacity of dogs to communicate in a referential and intentional way with humans is considered a key outcome of how domestication as a companion animal shaped the canid brain. However, the lack of comparison with other domestic animals makes general conclusions about how domestication has affected these important cognitive features difficult. We investigated human-directed behaviour in an ‘unsolvable problem’ task in a domestic, but non-companion species: goats. During the test, goats experienced a forward facing or an away facing person. They gazed towards the forward facing person earlier and for longer and showed more gaze alternations and a lower latency until the first gaze alternation when the person was forward facing. Our results provide strong evidence for audience-dependent human-directed visual orienting behaviour in a species that was domesticated primarily for production, and show similarities with the referential and intentional communicative behaviour exhibited by domestic companion animals such as dogs and horses. This indicates that domestication has a much broader impact on heterospecific communication than previously believed.
Nawroth, C., Brett, J. M., & McElligott, A. G. (2016). Goats display audience-dependent human-directed gazing behaviour in a problem-solving task. Biology Letters, 12(7), 20160283.