Dogs’ ability to follow temporarily invisible moving objects: the ability to track and expect is shaped by experience

Miina LõokeOrsolya KanizsarCécile GuérineauPaolo MongilloLieta Marinelli (2023) Animal Cognition


Visually tracking a moving object, even if it becomes temporarily invisible, is an important skill for animals living in complex environments. However, this ability has not been widely explored in dogs. To address this gap of knowledge and understand how experience contributes to such ability, we conducted two experiments using a violation of expectation paradigm. Dogs were shown an animation of a ball moving horizontally across a screen, passing behind an occluder, and reappearing with a timing that was faster, slower or congruent with its initial speed. In the first experiment, dogs (N = 15) were exposed to the incongruent conditions without prior experience; while in the second experiment, dogs (N = 37) were preliminarily exposed to the congruent stimulus. Dogs of the first experiment did not exhibit a surprise effect, as measured by latency to look away from the expected stimulus presentation area, in response to the incongruent conditions, suggesting they had not formed an expectation about the timing of reappearance. However, their latency to orient towards the reappearing ball depended on the condition, suggesting they were able, to some extent, to visually keep track of the stimulus’ trajectory. Dogs of the second experiment were surprised when the ball stayed behind the occluder longer than expected, but showed no difference in latency to orient across conditions. This suggests they had overcome the visual tracking mechanism and had formed expectations about the timing of reappearance. In conclusion, dogs seem to use a low-level mechanism to keep visual track of a temporarily disappearing moving object, but experience is required to make expectation about its trajectory.

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