, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 355-367
Date: 22 Sep 2006

Reproducing human actions and action sequences: “Do as I Do!” in a dog

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We present evidence that a dog (Philip, a 4-year-old tervueren) was able to use different human actions as samples against which to match his own behaviour. First, Philip was trained to repeat nine human-demonstrated actions on command (‘Do it!’). When his performance was markedly over chance in response to demonstration by one person, testing with untrained action sequences and other demonstrators showed some ability to generalise his understanding of copying. In a second study, we presented Philip with a sequence of human actions, again using the ‘Do as I do’ paradigm. All demonstrated actions had basically the same structure: the owner picked up a bottle from one of six places; transferred it to one of the five other places and then commanded the dog (‘Do it!’). We found that Philip duplicated the entire sequence of moving a specific object from one particular place to another more often than expected by chance. Although results point to significant limitations in his imitative abilities, it seems that the dog could have recognized the action sequence, on the basis of observation alone, in terms of the initial state, the means, and the goal. This suggests that dogs might acquire abilities by observation that enhance their success in complex socio-behavioural situations.

This contribution is part of the special issue “Animal Logics” (Watanabe and Huber 2006).