Habituation and dishabituation during object play in kennel-housed dogs


Domestic dogs are reported to show intense but transient neophilia towards novel objects. Here, we examine habituation and dishabituation to manipulable objects by kennel-housed dogs. Labrador retrievers (N = 16) were repeatedly presented with one toy for successive 30-s periods until interaction ceased. At this point (habituation), a different toy was presented that contrasted with the first in both colour and odour (since the dog’s saliva would have accumulated on the first), colour alone, or odour alone. No effect of the type of contrast was detected in the number of presentations to habituation, the difference in duration of interaction between the first presentation of the first toy and the presentation of the second toy (recovery), or the duration of interaction with the second toy (dishabituation). Varying the time interval between successive presentations of the first toy up to habituation between 10 s and 10 min had no effect on the number of presentations to habituation, nor did it alter the extent of dishabituation. Varying the delay from habituation to presentation of the second toy, between 10 s and 15 min, affected neither the recovery nor the dishabituation. Overall, the study indicates that loss of interest in the object during object-orientated play in this species is due to habituation to the overall stimulus properties of the toy rather than to any single sensory modality and is also atypical in its insensitivity to the interval between presentations.

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The authors would like to thank the BBSRC and WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition for funding the project (studentship to AJP). We are also grateful to WCPN for providing the facilities and dogs to enable the research to be undertaken.

Conflict of interest

Ralph Merrill is an employee of the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition. Anne Pullen was in receipt of a studentship partially funded by the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition. John Bradshaw has no financial relationship with either of the bodies that sponsored the research.

Ethical standards

Approval was obtained from the University of Bristol Ethics Committee for all the experiments described in this paper. As part of this process, confirmation was obtained that none of the procedures used required a licence from the UK Home Office.

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Correspondence to John W. S. Bradshaw.

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Pullen, A.J., Merrill, R.J.N. & Bradshaw, J.W.S. Habituation and dishabituation during object play in kennel-housed dogs. Anim Cogn 15, 1143–1150 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0538-2

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  • Domestic dog
  • Habituation
  • Dishabituation
  • Object play