Does Direct Human Eye Contact Function as a Warning Cue for Domestic Sheep (Ovis aries)?

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Direct eye contact may function as a warning cue during interspecific interactions, and human staring has been shown to influence the behavior of many species. The authors used an arena test to assess whether human staring altered the behavior of domestic sheep (Ovis aries) compared with no human eye contact. Sheep glanced at the staring human's face more often in the first 2 min of the test, indicating that they perceived a difference between the human stimuli. Staring also elicited more locomotor activity and urination than averted gaze. However, there were no differences in fear-related behaviors, suggesting that a staring human did not represent a greater immediate threat than a nonwatching human. These results imply that human staring is a warning cue for domestic sheep, but no more. Without further reinforcement, sheep quickly habituated to the warning cue.

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