One of the things that sets robots apart from intermittently animated objects like toasters is that humans generally see robots as agents. That is, when we look at a robot, and especially a social robot (a robot designed for human interaction), we tend to ascribe some amount of independent action to them, along with motivation at varying levels of abstraction. Robots, in other words, have agency in a way that toasters just don’t.
Agency is something that designers of robots intended for human interaction can to some extent exploit to make the robots more effective. But humans aren’t the only species that robots interact with. At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2020), researchers at Yale University’s Social Robotics Lab led by Brian Scassellati presented a paper taking the first step towards determining whether dogs, which are incredibly good at understanding social behaviors in humans, see human-ish robots as agents—or more specifically, whether dogs see robots more like humans (which they obey), or more like speaker systems (which they don’t).