Dec. 28.2020 | Updated: September 17, 2021

Dogs Will Obey Robots but Not Speakers

American scientists have found that dogs can obey commands from humanoid robots, but do not obey if the command comes from an ordinary speaker. In their work, the researchers used a Japanese robot Nao: the dogs looked at him for a long time when he called their name, and also sat down if the robot ordered them to sit. The work was presented at the HRI (Human-Robot Interaction) 2020 conference, which took place online in March.

Researchers from Yale University, led by Brian Scasselatti, studied how pets can interact with “smart” technology. 34 pet dogs of different ages took part in their study: an important criterion for the participants was that they all had to obey the “sit” command.

The dogs were divided into two groups: the first listened to commands from a humanoid robot Nao and the second – from an ordinary speaker. During the experiment, their owners and an experimenter were also present near the animals.

In the first experiment, the researchers evaluated the dogs’ reactions to either the robot or the speaker calling their name: the researchers used pre-recorded recordings of the woman saying the dog’s name. The main indicator of the dogs’ reactions was the direction of their gaze – it was judged from the video.

Before the dogs heard their name, they preferred to look at their owners or the experimenter and other objects, without paying much attention to either the speaker or the robot. Those dogs who were called by the robot’s name paid attention to the robot, but no one paid attention to the speaker anyway.

In the second experiment, both the robot and the speaker gave the dog the command “sit”-right after calling it by name. Those dogs told to sit by the robot also looked at him more and obeyed him more often than dogs commanded by the speaker.

A Robot Gives the Command to the Dog

It is important to consider that the robot that gave the command to the dog held a treat in his hand, which the dog received if it sat down on his command, while the speaker only praised the dog, but no treatment was given to the dog.

The authors, however, noted that the dogs obeyed the robot even before they realized that they would get a treat for completing the command. They also recalled a study in which scientists failed to teach dogs to obey commands from speakers, even using treats. Also, the speaker, unlike the robot, can not give a treat: for this would have to use the experimenter or the owner of the dog, and this would violate the purity of the experiment.

Robots, as the authors of the work noted, actually give the impression of active social subjects – and not only for people but also for dogs. For successful communication between a robot and a pet, robots must also recognize dogs and understand how to interact with them.

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