Animal Cognition

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 175–195 | Cite as

A case for methodological overhaul and increased study of executive function in the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

  • Mariana R. OlsenEmail author


Executive function (EF) allows for self-regulation of behavior including maintaining focus in the face of distraction, inhibiting behavior that is suboptimal or inappropriate in a given context, and updating the contents of working memory. While EF has been studied extensively in humans, it has only recently become a topic of research in the domestic dog. In this paper, I argue for increased study of dog EF by explaining how it might influence the owner–dog bond, human safety, and dog welfare, as well as reviewing the current literature dedicated to EF in dogs. In “EF and its Application to “Man’s Best Friend” section, I briefly describe EF and how it is relevant to dog behavior. In “Previous investigations into EF in dogs” section, I provide a review of the literature pertaining to EF in dogs, specifically tasks used to assess abilities like inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory capacity. In “Insights and limitations of previous studies” section, I consider limitations of existing studies that must be addressed in future research. Finally, in “Future directions” section, I propose future directions for meaningful research on EF in dogs.


Dogs Canine Cognition Executive function Attention 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Montana State UniversityBozemanUSA

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