Development of a Spatial Discount Task to Measure Impulsive Choices in Dogs

Paolo Mongillo, Anna Scandurra, Carla Eatherington, Biagio D’Aniello, Lieta Marinelli (2019) Animals, 9:469


Impulsive choices reflect an individual’s tendency to prefer a smaller immediate reward over a larger delayed one. Here, we have developed a behavioural test which can be easily applied to assess impulsive choices in dogs. Dogs were trained to associate one of two equidistant locations with a larger food amount when a smaller amount was presented in the other location, then the smaller amount was placed systematically closer to the dog. Choices of the smaller amount, as a function of distance, were considered a measure of the dog’s tendency to make impulsive choices. All dogs (N = 48) passed the learning phase and completed the entire assessment in under 1 h. Choice of the smaller food amount increased as this was placed closer to the dog. Choices were independent from food motivation, past training, and speed of learning the training phase; supporting the specificity of the procedure. Females showed a higher probability of making impulsive choices, in agreement with analogue sex differences found in human and rodent studies, and supporting the external validity of our assessment. Overall, the findings support the practical applicability and represent a first indication of the validity of this method, making it suitable for investigations into impulsivity in dogs.

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