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Sex differences in dogs’ social learning of spatial information


We used a modified version of the Do as I Do paradigm to investigate dogs’ preference and flexibility in the acquisition of different types of spatial information in social learning situations. When required to match the location of the demonstration, dogs (N = 16) preferentially relied on allocentric information, i.e., the relationship between the location of the demonstration and the various objects surrounding it. However, when allocentric cues were inadequate to solve the task, dogs learned to rely on egocentric information, i.e., the direction—left/right—taken by the human demonstrator. The ease of resorting to the non-preferred egocentric strategy was sex-dependent with males acquiring the egocentric strategy in fewer trials than females. This study shows that dogs rely preferentially on allocentric cues when recalling socially acquired spatial information. However, they are impressively flexible in switching to egocentric strategies according to the task requirements. Whether preference for the allocentric strategy in processing spatial information is embedded in the nature of social learning or restricted to our paradigm is an open question. This study also supports the idea that sex differences in cognitive domains are widespread among mammals and calls for further investigations aimed at shedding light on the evolution, function and mechanisms of such differences.

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This study was funded by the University of Padua (CPDA144871/14). Dr. Claudia Fugazza received a post doc grant (CPDR148844) from the University of Padua. We are very grateful to Pamela Sambugaro for assistance with data collection and all the dogs’ owners volunteering this study.

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Correspondence to Lieta Marinelli.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

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All procedures performed in the present study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Padua and Italian law. No specific permission was required, given the nature of the study.

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Fugazza, C., Mongillo, P. & Marinelli, L. Sex differences in dogs’ social learning of spatial information. Anim Cogn 20, 789–794 (2017).

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  • Dog
  • Do as I Do
  • Sex
  • Spatial cognition
  • Social learning