Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 355–367 | Cite as

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

  • József TopálEmail author
  • Richard W. Byrne
  • Ádám Miklósi
  • Vilmos Csányi
Original Article


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.


Dog Imitation ‘Do as I do’ Social skills 



This work has been supported by OTKA (T 029705), by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (F 031/2000) and by grants from the Hungarian Health Department (261/2000) and from the European Union (NEST 012787). The authors are grateful to Richárd Mányik, Márta Gácsi and Antal Dóka for their essential contribution and to György Gergely and Cecilia Heyes for their helpful comments to the earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • József Topál
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard W. Byrne
    • 2
  • Ádám Miklósi
    • 3
  • Vilmos Csányi
    • 3
  1. 1.Comparative Ethology Research GroupHungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Scottish Primate Research Group and Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive EvolutionThe School of Psychology, University of St. AndrewsSt. AndrewsUK
  3. 3.Department of EthologyEötvös UniversityBudapestHungary

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