Human-directed behaviour in goats is not affected by short-term positive handling

In addition to domestication, interactions with humans or task-specific training during ontogeny have been proposed to play a key role in explaining differences in human–animal communication across species. In livestock, even short-term positive interactions with caretakers or other reference persons can influence human–animal interaction at different levels and over different periods of time. In this study, we investigated human-directed behaviour in the ‘unsolvable task’ paradigm in two groups of domestic goats. One group was positively handled and habituated to a plastic box by the experimenter to retrieve a food reward, while the other group only received standard husbandry care and was habituated to the box without human assistance. In the unsolvable task, the lid was fixed to the box, with the reward inaccessible to the subjects. The goats were confronted with the unsolvable task three times. We observed no difference between the two groups regarding gaze and contact alternations with the experimenter when confronted with the task they cannot solve by themselves. The goats did not differ in their expression rates of both gaze and contact alternations over three repetitions of the unsolvable task; however, they showed earlier gaze and contact alternations in later trials. The results do not support the hypothesis that short-term positive handling or task-specific training by humans facilitates human-directed behaviour in goats. In contrast, standard husbandry care might be sufficient to establish humans as reference persons for farm animals in challenging situations.

Langbein, J., Krause, A., Nawroth, C. (2018) Human-directed behaviour in goats is not affected by short-term positive handling. Animal Cognition 21(6): 795–803.

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