Clegg, I. L. K., Rödel, H. G., Boivin, X. 2018. Looking forward to interacting with their caretakers: dolphins’ anticipatory behaviour indicates motivation to participate in specific events. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 202, 85-93.
Anticipatory behaviour describes the actions taken to prepare for an upcoming event. Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in captivity are known to display anticipatory behaviours before feeding sessions, but it is unknown whether they would anticipate non-alimentary events. Furthermore, there is no published information available for any species on whether the level of anticipatory behaviour is predictive of an animal’s actual participation in the following event or reward: answering this question would bring us closer to understanding this behaviour and its related affective states. In this study, we used sound cues to condition dolphins to the arrival of toys in their pool or a positive Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) with a familiar trainer, and measured their anticipatory behaviour before each event. The protocol was validated since the dolphins performed significantly more anticipatory behaviour before the toys and HAI contexts than a control situation, by means of increased frequencies of surface looking and spy hopping. Furthermore, we found that dolphins showed more anticipatory behaviour before the HAI than the toys context (Linear Mixed Model with 1000 permutations, all P < 0.001). In the second part of the investigation, higher anticipatory behaviour before toy provision, HAIs, and feeding sessions was significantly correlated to higher levels of participation in the event itself (measured by time spent with humans/toys, and number of times dolphins left during feeding sessions; LMM with 1000 permutations, respectively: β = 0.216 ± 0.100 SE, P = 0.039; β = 0.274 ± 0.097 SE, P = 0.008; β = −0.169 ± 0.080 SE, P = 0.045). Our results suggest that toys and HAIs were perceived as rewarding events, and we propose that non-food human interactions play an important role in these animals’ lives. We also provide some of the first empirical evidence that anticipatory behaviour is correlated to the level of participation in the following event, supporting anticipatory behaviour as a measure of motivation, and hope that this stimulates further work regarding the use of this behaviour to assess and improve animal welfare.