Do shelter dogs engage in social referencing with their caregiver in an approach paradigm? An exploratory study

  • Duranton Charlotte
  • Bedossa Thierry
  • Gaunet Florence

  • Approach paradigm
  • Social referencing
  • Shelter dogs
  • Canis familiaris


When confronted with an unfamiliar object or person, privately owned pet dogs engage in social referencing, synchronizing their reaction with that of their owners. The question of whether shelter dogs do so when confronted with a stranger has not yet been studied. We tested the reactions of 30 shelter dogs with their principal caregiver when confronted with a stranger approaching them in a neutral manner. The caregivers were instructed to behave in one of three ways toward the stranger: stay still, approach, or retreat. The shelter dogs showed both referential looks and gaze alternations between the stranger and their caregiver. However, the shelter dogs did not modify their reactions towards the stranger in accordance with the behaviour of their caregivers. Thus, when confronted with a stranger, shelter dogs did not show social referencing with their handlers, contrary to privately owned pet dogs with their owners. These findings highlight social deprivation that dogs in shelters are confronted with, and emphasize the importance of the affiliative bond between humans and dogs in creating social referencing. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.