Quantity-based judgments in the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

Abstract

We examined the ability of domestic dogs to choose the larger versus smaller quantity of food in two experiments. In experiment 1, we investigated the ability of 29 dogs (results from 18 dogs were used in the data analysis) to discriminate between two quantities of food presented in eight different combinations. Choices were simultaneously presented and visually available at the time of choice. Overall, subjects chose the larger quantity more often than the smaller quantity, but they found numerically close comparisons more difficult. In experiment 2, we tested two dogs from experiment 1 under three conditions. In condition 1, we used similar methods from experiment 1 and tested the dogs multiple times on the eight combinations from experiment 1 plus one additional combination. In conditions 2 and 3, the food was visually unavailable to the subjects at the time of choice, but in condition 2, food choices were viewed simultaneously before being made visually unavailable, and in condition 3, they were viewed successively. In these last two conditions, and especially in condition 3, the dogs had to keep track of quantities mentally in order to choose optimally. Subjects still chose the larger quantity more often than the smaller quantity when the food was not simultaneously visible at the time of choice. Olfactory cues and inadvertent cuing by the experimenter were excluded as mechanisms for choosing larger quantities. The results suggest that, like apes tested on similar tasks, some dogs can form internal representations and make mental comparisons of quantity.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the University of Michigan's Rackham Graduate School. We wish to thank all of the owners and their dogs for their participation in the study. Thanks to Kathy Welch at the University of Michigan for her statistical input. These experiments comply with the current laws of the United States and the standards established by the University of Michigan's Committee on Use and Care of Animals (project approval no. 8792).

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Correspondence to Camille Ward.

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Ward, C., Smuts, B.B. Quantity-based judgments in the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris). Anim Cogn 10, 71–80 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-006-0042-7

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Keywords

  • Quantity judgments
  • Domestic dogs
  • Perception
  • Cognition