Deferred imitation and declarative memory in domestic dogs

Abstract

This study demonstrates for the first time deferred imitation of novel actions in dogs (Canis familiaris) with retention intervals of 1.5 min and memory of familiar actions with intervals ranging from 0.40 to 10 min. Eight dogs were trained using the ‘Do as I do’ method to match their own behaviour to actions displayed by a human demonstrator. They were then trained to wait for a short interval to elapse before they were allowed to show the previously demonstrated action. The dogs were then tested for memory of the demonstrated behaviour in various conditions, also with the so-called two-action procedure and in a control condition without demonstration. Dogs were typically able to reproduce familiar actions after intervals as long as 10 min, even if distracted by different activities during the retention interval and were able to match their behaviour to the demonstration of a novel action after a delay of 1 min. In the two-action procedure, dogs were typically able to imitate the novel demonstrated behaviour after retention intervals of 1.5 min. The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that facilitative processes cannot exhaustively explain the observed behavioural similarity and that dogs’ imitative abilities are rather based on an enduring mental representation of the demonstration. Furthermore, the ability to imitate a novel action after a delay without previous practice suggests presence of declarative memory in dogs.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Hungarian Scholarship Board by providing a fellowship to C. Fugazza. A.M. also receives funding from MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Group (MTA01 031), and the Hungarian Science Foundation (OTKA K81953). We are also grateful to the dog owners of the Good Boy and Happy Dog School who enthusiastically participated in this research with their dogs. We thank L. Marinelli for her comments on the manuscript, C.P. West for proofreading the English of this article and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions.

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Correspondence to Claudia Fugazza.

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Fugazza, C., Miklósi, Á. Deferred imitation and declarative memory in domestic dogs. Anim Cogn 17, 237–247 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0656-5

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Keywords

  • Deferred imitation
  • Dog
  • Declarative memory
  • Social learning