Our canine companions pay close attention to us. So it’s no surprise that dogs are able to follow the human gaze, looking at what we look at. A new study in the journal Animal Behaviour provides evidence that dogs are capable of following the human gaze across a room (and not just to look at food). However, the study was complicated by one factor: the scientist in the study, whom the dogs were supposed to be paying attention to, was looking at a door. And dogs get excited when they look at doors.
Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna studied 145 border collies between 6 months and 14 years old with various levels of training, in the hopes of determining whether training or age impacted the dogs’ ability to follow a person’s line of sight. To do so, the experimenter looked at the dog with a surprised expression on her face, then looked at a door across the room to see if the dog would look with her. Many of the dogs did, though formal training decreased their tendency to do so, because a well-trained dog spent more time looking the person standing with them in the face.
Yet the scientists concede that their study may have been a little biased, just because dogs already know that a lot of action happens in doorways. The authors write that the dogs may have been more inclined to look at the door than anything else in the room, because experience teaches them that stuff tends to happen around doors:
Doors may hold particular social relevance to dogs, as even dogs as young as 6 months already have ample experience with doors, and the possibility that an individual may enter at any time. Gaze cues towards areas of particular relevance for dogs, such as the door in this case, might have facilitated the gaze-following response by providing contextual relevance.
Either way, it's probably safe to go ahead and and add doors to the list of things dogs get worked up about.