How does dominance rank status affect individual and social learning performance in the dog (Canis familiaris)?

Abstract

Dogs can learn effectively to detour around a V-shaped fence after observing a demonstration from either an unfamiliar human or dog demonstrator. We found earlier that there is substantial individual variation between the dogs’ performance, even when using the same experimental conditions. Here, we investigate if the subjects’ relative dominance rank with other dogs had an effect on their social learning performance. On the basis of the owners’ answers to a questionnaire, subjects from multi-dog homes were sorted into groups of dominant and subordinate dogs. In Experiment 1, dominant and subordinate dogs were tested without demonstration and we did not find any difference between the groups—they had similarly low detour performances on their own. In Experiment 2 and 3, dogs from single dog and multi-dog households were tested in the detour task with demonstration by an unfamiliar dog, or human, respectively. The results showed that social learning performance of the single dogs fell between the dominant and subordinate multi-dogs with both dog and human demonstration. Subordinate dogs displayed significantly better performance after having observed a dog demonstrator in comparison to dominant dogs. In contrast, the performance of dominant and subordinate dogs was almost similar, when they observed a human demonstrator. These results suggest that perceived dominance rank in its own group has a strong effect on social learning in dogs, but this effect seems to depend also on the demonstrator species. This finding reveals an intricate organization of the social structure in multi-dog households, which can contribute to individual differences existing among dogs.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by the grants of the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA) T047235 and F01031. The authors are thankful to Celeste Pongrácz for the English proofreading of this manuscript. The corresponding author assures that the experiments being reported in this paper are in accordance with the current Hungarian laws in regard to animal protection.

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Correspondence to Péter Pongrácz.

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Pongrácz, P., Vida, V., Bánhegyi, P. et al. How does dominance rank status affect individual and social learning performance in the dog (Canis familiaris)?. Anim Cogn 11, 75–82 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-007-0090-7

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Keywords

  • Dog
  • Social learning
  • Perceived rank