Learning & Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 522–536 | Cite as

Individual performance across motoric self-regulation tasks are not correlated for pet dogs

  • Alizée A. A. Vernouillet
  • Laura R. Stiles
  • J. Andrew McCausland
  • Debbie M. KellyEmail author


Inhibitory control, the ability to restrain a prepotent but ineffective response in a given context, is thought to be indicative of a species’ cognitive abilities. This ability ranges from “basic” motoric self-regulation to more complex abilities such as self-control. During the current study, we investigated the motoric self-regulatory abilities of 30 pet dogs using four well-established cognitive tasks – the A-not-B Bucket task, the Cylinder task, the Detour task, and the A-not-B Barrier task – administered in a consistent context. One main goal of the study was to determine whether the individual-level performance would correlate across tasks, supporting that these tasks measure similar components of motoric self-regulation. Dogs in our study were quite successful during tasks requiring them to detour around transparent barriers (i.e., the Cylinder and Detour tasks), but were less successful with tasks requiring the production of a new response (i.e., A-not-B Bucket and A-not-B Barrier tasks). However, individual dog performance did not correlate across tasks, suggesting these well-established tasks likely measure different inhibitory control abilities, or are strongly influenced by differential task demands. Our results also suggest other aspects such as perseveration or properties of the apparatus may need to be carefully examined in order to better understand canine motoric self-regulation or inhibitory control more generally.


A-not-B tasks Cylinder task Detour task Inhibitory control Motor self-regulation Pet dogs 



Support for this study was provided through a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Discovery grant to DMK (#312379-2009). We would very much like to thank the Winnipeg Humane Society for lending us the facilities to perform our experiments. We are thankful to the dogs and the dog owners for their participation in the study, as well as to Miriam Christensen and Meara Stow for their help in data collection.

Compliance with ethical standards

Author contributions

AAAV, LRS, JAM, and DMK designed the study; AAAV, LRS, and JAM conducted the experiments; AAAV, LRS, and DMK analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.

Supplementary material

13420_2018_354_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (118 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 118 kb)


  1. Abramson, J.Z., Soto, D.P., Zapata, S.B., & Lloreda, M.V.H. (2018). Spatial perseveration error by alpacas (Vicugna pacos) in an A-not-B detour task. Animal Cognition, 21(3), 433–439.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Amici, F., Aureli, F., & Call, J. (2008). Fission-fusion dynamics, behavioral flexibility, and inhibitory control in primates. Current Biology, 18, 1415–1419. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2015). Fitting Linear Mixed-Effects Models Using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67(1), 1–48.
  4. Beran, M. (2015). The comparative science of ‘self-control’: What are we talking about? Frontiers in Psychology, 6(51), 1–4. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bray, E. E., MacLean, E. L., & Hare, B. A. (2014). Context specificity of inhibitory control in dogs. Animal Cognition, 17, 15–31. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bray, E. E., MacLean, E. L., & Hare, B. A. (2015). Increasing arousal enhances inhibitory control in calm but not excitable dogs. Animal Cognition, 18(6), 1317–1329. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Brucks, D., Marshall-Pescini, S., Wallis, L. J., Huber, L., & Range, F. (2017a). Measures of dogs’ inhibitory control abilities do not correlate across tasks. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(849), 1–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brucks, D., Soliani, M., Range, F., & Marshall-Pescini, S. (2017b). Reward type and behavioural patterns predict dogs’ success in a delay of gratification paradigm. Scientific Reports, 7, 1–10.
  9. Byrne, R.W., & Bates, L.A. (2007). Sociality, evolution, cognition. Current Biology, 17, R714–R723. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Diamond, A. (1990). Developmental time course in human infants and infant monkeys, and the neural bases of inhibitory control in reaching. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 608(1), 637–676. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Duckworth, A. L., & Kern, M. L. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of the Convergent Validity of Self-Control Measures. Journal of Research in Personality, 45, 259–268. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Fagnani, J., Barrera, G., Carballo, F., & Bentosela, M. (2016). Is previous experience important for inhibitory control? A comparison between shelter and pet dogs in A-not-B and cylinder tasks. Animal Cognition, 19(6), 1165–1172. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Frank, H., & Frank, M.G. (1982). Comparison of problem-solving performance in six-week-old wolves and dogs. Animal Behaviour, 30, 95–98. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gácsi, M., Gyoöri, B., Virányi, Z., Kubinyi, E., Range, F., Belényi, B., & Miklósi, A. (2009). Explaining Dog Wolf Differences in Utilizing Human Pointing Gestures: Selection for Synergistic Shifts in the Development of Some Social Skills. PLoS One, 4(9), 1–6. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Glady, Y., Genty, E., & Roeder, J. (2012). Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) can master the qualitative version of the reverse-reward contingency. Plos One, 7(10), 1–7. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hare, B., & Tomasello, M. (2005). Human-like social skills in dogs? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(9), 439–444. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Juszczak, G. R., & Miller, M. (2016). Detour behavior of mice trained with transparent, semitransparent and opaque barriers. PLoS One, 11(9), 1–23. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kabadayi, C., Bobrowicz, K., & Osvath, M. (2018). The detour paradigm in animal cognition. Animal Cognition, 21(1), 21–35. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kabadayi, C., Krasheninnikova, A., O’Neill, L., van de Weijer, J., Osvath, M., & von Bayern A. M. (2017). Are parrots poor at motor self-regulation or is the cylinder task poor at measuring it? Animal Cognition, 20(6), 1137–1146. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Kabadayi, C., Taylor, L. A., von Bayern, A. M., & Osvath, M. (2016). Ravens, New Caledonian crows and jackdaws parallel great apes in motor self-regulation despite smaller brains. Royal Society Open Science, 3(160104), 1–7. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Kis, A., Topál, J., Gácsi, M., Range, F., Huber, L., Miklósi, A., & Virányi, Z. (2012). Does the A-not-B error in adult pet dogs indicate sensitivity to human communication? Animal Cognition, 15(4), 737–743. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Lenth, R. V. (2016). Least-Squares Means: The R Package lsmeans. Journal of Statistical Software, 69(1), 1–33.
  23. Leonardi, R., Vick, S., & Dufour, V. (2011). Waiting for more: the performance of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) on exchange tasks. Animal Cognition, 15, 107–120.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Lucon-Xiccato, T., Gatto, E., & Bisazza, A. (2017). Fish perform like mammals and birds in inhibitory motor control tasks. bioRxiv 188359.Google Scholar
  25. MacLean, E. L., Hare, B., Nunn, C. L., Addessi, E., Amici, F., Anderson, R. C., et al. (2014). The evolution of self-control. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 111, E2140–E2148. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Marshall-Pescini, S., Valsecchi, P., Petak, I., Accorsi, P. A., & Previde, E. P. (2008). Does training make you smarter? The effects of training on dogs’ performance (Canis familiaris) in a problem solving task. Behavioural Processes, 78(3), 449–454. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Marshall-Pescini, S., Virányi, Z., & Range, F. (2015). The effect of domestication on inhibitory control: wolves and dogs compared. PLoS One, 10(2), e0118469. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. McCormack, T., & Atance, C.M. (2011). Planning in young children: A review and synthesis. Developmental Review, 31, 1–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miklósi, A., Kubinyi, E., Topál, J., Gácsi, M., Virányi, Z., & Csányi, V. (2003). A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. Current Biology, 13, 763-766.Osthaus, B., Marlow, D., & Ducat, P. (2010). Minding the gap: spatial perseveration error in dogs. Animal Cognition, 13, 881–885. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Müller, C.A., Riemer, S., Virányi, Z., Huber, L., & Range, F. (2016). Inhibitory control, but not prolonged object-related experience appears to affect physical problem-solving performance of pet dogs. PLoS ONE, 11, e0147753.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Osthaus, B., Marlow, D., & Ducat, P. (2010). Minding the gap: spatial perseveration error in dogs. Animal Cognition, 13(6), 881–885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pongrácz, P., Miklósi, A., Kubinyi, E., Gurobi, K., Topál, J., & Csányi, V. (2001). Social learning in dogs: the effect of a human demonstrator on the performance of dogs in a detour task. Animal Behaviour, 62(6), 1109–1117. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pongrácz, P., Miklósi A., Kubinyi, E., Topál, J., & Csányi, V. (2003). Interaction between individual experience and social learning in dogs. Animal Behaviour, 65(3), 595–603. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Santos, L. R., Ericson, B. N., & Hauser, M. D. (1999). Constraints on problem solving and inhibition: object retrieval in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus oedipus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 113(2), 186–193. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith, B. P., & Litchfield, C. A. (2010). How well do dingoes, Canis dingo, perform on the detour task? Animal Behaviour, 80(1), 155–162. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tapp, P.D., Siwak, C.T., Estrada, J., Head, E., Muggenburg, B.A., Cotman, C. W., et al. 2003. Size and reversal learning in the beagle dog as a measure of executive function and inhibitory control in aging. Learning & Memory, 10, 64–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tomkins, L. M., Thomson, P. C., & McGreevy, P. D. (2010). First-Stepping Test as a measure of motor laterality in dogs (Canis familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 5(5), 247–255. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Topál, J., Gergely, G., Erdőhegyi, Á., Csibra, G., & Miklósi, Á. (2009). Differential sensitivity to human communication in dogs, wolves, and human infants. Science , 325(5945), 1269–1272. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Udell, M. A. R., & Wynne, C. D. L. (2010). Ontogeny and phylogeny: both are essential to human-sensitive behavior in the genus Canis. Animal Behaviour, 79(2). CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vallortigara, G., & Regolin, L. (2002). Facing an obstacle: lateralization of object and spatial cognition. In: Rogers LJ (ed) Comparative vertebrate lateralization. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 383–444. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Venables, W.N., & Ripley, B.D. (2002). Modern applied statistics with S. 4th. New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Vernouillet, A., Anderson, J., Clary, D., & Kelly, D. M. (2016). Inhibition in Clark’s nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana): Results of a detour-reaching test. Animal Cognition, 19(3), 661–665. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Vlamings, P. H., Hare, B., Call, J. (2010). Reaching around barriers: the performance of the great apes and 3–5-year-old children. Animal Cognition, 13(2), 273–285. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Wobber, V., & Hare, B. (2009). Testing the social dog hypothesis: are dogs also more skilled than chimpanzees in non-communicative social tasks? Behavioural Processes, 81, 423–428.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Wynne, C., & Leguet, B. (2004). Detour behavior in the Quokka (Setonix brachyurus). Behavioural Processes, 67(2), 281–286. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alizée A. A. Vernouillet
    • 1
  • Laura R. Stiles
    • 2
  • J. Andrew McCausland
    • 2
  • Debbie M. Kelly
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations