Conspecific observational learning by adult dogs in a training context

Scandurra, A, Mongillo, P, Marinelli, L, Aria, M, D’Aniello, B (2016)

Applied animal behaviour science, 174, 116–120


The role of observational learning in dogs has drawn great interest from the scientific community. However, only a few studies explored its potential use for training purposes. The aim of the present study was to assess the potential benefit of conspecific observational learning in a dog training context. Fifty adult Labrador retrievers were recruited at the Italian Water Rescue School. Dogs were equally distributed between basic and advanced training level and assigned to demonstration and control groups. The experimental procedure consisted of two phases: Phase 1, intended to ascertain that dogs could not perform the selected exercise when requested by their handlers; Phase 2, to assess whether they would perform the same exercise after the observation of a conspecific demonstrator. The tests were performed outdoors in a fenced training area and one out of two dynamic exercises were selected for each dog: jumping on a trunk or hop on a slide for children. The outcome of Phase 2 was coded into a binary variable as successful or unsuccessful and a generalized linear model with binary logistic link function was used to analyze outcomes. The model included the dog’s age as a covariate and the experimental group, level of experience, sex and all two-ways interactions as fixed factors. The dogs’ probability to replicate the action increased significantly after demonstration by a conspecific compared to a control group and such probability improves with age. This study supports the usefulness of the intraspecific observational learning in adult dogs for training purposes.

Dog, Training, Observational learning, Intraspecific demonstration

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