July 16, 2013
Doggie See, Doggie Do – Canines Can Retain, Duplicate Human Actions
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The research, which was written by Claudia Fugazza and Adam Miklosi of Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, reportedly provides the first evidence of a canine's cognitive capabilities to both encode and recall actions following a short delay.
Domesticated dogs are eager to rely on human communication cues, Fugazza and Miklosi said. They learn by watching people and tend to be easily influenced by humans in learning situations. Living as part of human social groups may have contributed to their ability to learn from their owners, they said.
The researchers recruited eight adult pet dogs, all of whom were trained using a method known as "do as I do." The canines were made to wait for a short period of time (between five and 30 seconds) before being allowed to copy the human action they had witnessed.
They then observed whether or not the creatures were able to imitate human actions following delays ranging from 40 seconds to 10 minutes, during which time the dogs were encouraged to participate in other activities in order to distract them. Fugazza and Miklosi were looking for evidence of the animal's ability to encode and recall the demonstrated action following intervals of varying lengths.
According to Fugazza, during one of the tests, the owner made her dog stay and pay attention to her. The dog was always expected to begin in the same position, and three randomly-selected objects were placed near the dog at the same distance. When the canine was in position, the human demonstrated an object-related action, such as ringing a bell, and then both she and the dog went behind a screen in order to keep the objects out of sight.
Once behind the curtain, the owner and her dog played with a ball, participated in a different training exercise, or simply relaxed. After a break period, the owner walked her dog back to the starting position, and gave the command "do it" to the creature. In a control condition, the command was given by someone other than the owner. When the dog heard the command, it tended to successfully perform the previously demonstrated action.
The tests demonstrate that dogs are able to reproduce both familiar novel actions after delays of varying length. Familiar actions could be completed after intervals of up to 10 minutes, while unfamiliar tasks could be completed following a delay of up to 60 seconds. Furthermore, the researchers said that the ability was observed in different conditions, even when the dogs were distracted by different activities during the break period.
"The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that the dogs have a mental representation of the human demonstration," the authors said. "In addition, the ability to imitate a novel action after a delay without previous practice suggests the presence of a specific type of long-term memory in dogs. This would be so-called "declarative memory,' which refers to memories which can be consciously recalled, such as facts or knowledge."