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The effect of training and breed group on problem-solving behaviours in dogs

Abstract

Dogs have become the focus of cognitive studies looking at both their physical and social problem-solving abilities (Bensky et al. in Adv Stud Behav, 45:209–387, 2013), but very little is known about the environmental and inherited factors that may affect these abilities. In the current study, we presented a manipulation task (a puzzle box) and a spatial task (the detour) to 128 dogs belonging to four different breed groups: Herding, Mastiff-like, Working and Retrievers (von Holdt et al. in Nature 464:898–902, 2010). Within each group, we tested highly trained and non-trained dogs. Results showed that trained dogs were faster at obtaining the reward in the detour task. In the manipulation task, trained dogs approached the apparatus sooner in the first familiarization trial, but no effect of breed emerged on this variable. Furthermore, regardless of breed, dogs in the trained group spent proportionally more time interacting with the apparatus and were more likely to succeed in the test trial than dogs in the non-trained group, whereas regardless of training, dogs in the working breed group were more likely to succeed than dogs in the retriever and herding breed groups (but not the mastiff-like group). Finally, trained dogs were less likely to look at a person than non-trained dogs during testing, but dogs in the herding group more likely to do so than dogs in the retriever and working but not the mastiff-like breed groups. Overall, results reveal a strong influence of training experience but less consistent differences between breed groups on different components thought to affect problem solving.

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Acknowledgments

We thank all the owners and dogs that participated as volunteers and Marianne Heberlein for statistical support.

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Correspondence to Sarah Marshall-Pescini.

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There are no known conflicts of interest with sponsors.

Ethical statement

This research complies with the current Italian laws on animal welfare and guidelines for research with animals as outlined by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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Marshall-Pescini, S., Frazzi, C. & Valsecchi, P. The effect of training and breed group on problem-solving behaviours in dogs. Anim Cogn 19, 571–579 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-016-0960-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-016-0960-y

Keywords

  • Dogs
  • Problem solving
  • Breeds
  • Training
  • Inhibitory control
  • Neophobia
  • Communication