Dogs living in our families often observe our actions, but do they understand why we do what we do? Do they understand that our actions may be aiming at a specific goal? Researchers at the Family Dog Project (Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest) have developed a method that may provide an answer to this question. They first trained dogs with the Do as I Do method to faithfully imitate human-demonstrated actions upon request “Do it!” (www.doasido.it). Dogs trained to imitate human actions with the Do as I Do method were tested on how they reproduced actions that either included or not an obvious goal. They found that dogs, similar to chimpanzees and 12-18-month human infants, could recognize the goals of others’ actions. When the action did not include the goal, dogs imitated the body movement performed by the demonstrator, but when a goal was apparent and recognizable, they tended to reach it by their own means, instead of reproducing the details of the action.
Fugazza, C., Petro, E., Miklósi, Á., & Pogány, Á. (2018). Social learning of goal-directed actions in dogs (Canis familiaris): Imitation or emulation? Journal of Comparative Psychology.
A brief video of the tests is already on our YouTube channel: