Family Dog Project was founded in 1994 to study the behavioral and cognitive aspects of the dog-human relationship. It is one of the largest dog research groups in the world, with over 100 published papers in peer-reviewed journals.
We hypothesised that dogs have evolved to survive in the anthropogenic environment, and our investigations aim at revealing the contribution of humans and dogs to this long-standing partnership. Thus we are not interested solely in the mental abilities of dogs but in all aspects of human and dog behaviour that have strengthened this bond, and may even expand it further. Surprisingly, in our experience this research does not only reveal important insights on dogs but also on us, people.
Currently member of the Family Dog Project belong to three institutions: Eötvös University, Department of Ethology, MTA TTK Group of Comparative Behavioural Research, MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group. The head of the group is Dr. Ádám Miklósi. His latest book is “Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition,” published by Oxford University Press.
Hungarian Brain Research Program 2.0 (NKP_17) (2017-1.2.1-NKP-2017-00002)
Social learning is a process that requires observing and then imitating others. The study of this cognitive process is significant from many perspectives. Dogs are a well-recognized animal model in cognitive research. They share our environment and are exposed to similar stimuli. Hence, studying the origin and development of these cognitive mechanisms in dogs is crucial to understanding their function in humans too.
Dogs can easily learn from humans and when trained with the ‘Do as I do’ method, they imitate the actions of the trainer. In our study (1), we tested dogs for engaging in either imitation or emulation based on the information available about the goal. Our results provided experimental evidence that trained dogs can recognize the goals of others and adjust their own accordingly.
Following, we trained dogs to repeat a small set of actions upon request (2). We wanted to test if dogs had formed a mental representation of their previous actions and could use it to perform the same action again, even after a delay. All dogs were able to repeat their actions even when unexpectedly asked to do so.
Learning object names after a few exposures are thought to be an ability only humans have. Previous attempts of showing similar skills in dogs failed to provide the necessary evidence. That is why we decided to investigate further this ability in dogs (3). We exposed two dogs to a novel object name either while playing or during an exclusion-based task. Both dogs succeeded after the exposure in the social context but failed in the exclusion-based task. Hence, our results revealed that rapid learning is possible for a non-human species even though memory consolidation requires more exposure.
We found evidence that while the vast majority of dogs struggle to learn the names of their toys when tested in strictly controlled conditions, a handful of Gifted Word Learner (GWL) dogs learn multiple names of toys effortlessly (4). While most dogs did not show any evidence of learning, despite their age and effort. The 40 dogs that participated in this research enrolled in an intensive, three-month-long training program aimed at teaching them the name of at least two dog toys. Among all dogs, only 7 adult dogs showed learning abilities.
In 6 peer-reviewed papers (all Q1, 1-6), we described rapid and social learning in pet dogs associated with the manifestation of certain giftedness in a few individuals. Main results: 1) dogs can recognize the goals of others and flexibly rely on imitation or emulation; 2) dogs form an episode-like memory of their actions; 3) rapid learning is possible in dogs but it seems to presuppose learning in a social context; 4) developmental factors do not influence word learning in dogs, only a few gifted individuals possess this ability.
The visibility of our research was high with hundreds of disseminations, including e.g., The Times, BBC, The Washington Post, Horizon.
- Fugazza, C., Petro, E., Miklósi, Á., & Pogány, Á. (2019). Social learning of goal-directed actions in dogs (Canis familiaris): Imitation or emulation? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 133, 244.
- Fugazza, C., Pongrácz, P., Pogány, Á., Lenkei, R., & Miklósi, Á. (2020). Mental representation and episodic-like memory of own actions in dogs. Scientific Reports, 10, 1-8.
- Fugazza, C., Andics, A., Magyari, L., Dror, S., Zempléni, A., & Miklósi, Á. (2021). Rapid learning of object names in dogs. Scientific Reports, 11, 1-11.
- Fugazza, C., Dror, S., Sommese, A., Temesi, A., & Miklósi, Á. (2021). Word learning dogs (Canis familiaris) provide an animal model for studying exceptional performance. Scientific Reports, 11, 1-9.
- Fugazza, C., Sommese, A., Pogány, Á., & Miklósi, Á. (2021). Did we find a copycat? Do as I Do in a domestic cat (Felis catus). Animal Cognition, 24, 121-131.
- Sommese, A., Miklósi, Á., Pogány, Á., Temesi, A., Dror, S., & Fugazza, C. (2021). An exploratory analysis of head-tilting in dogs. Animal Cognition, 1-5.
- Principal investigator: Ádám Miklósi, DSc
- Postdoctoral researcher: Claudia Fugazza, PhD
- Doctoral student: Shany Dror
- Research assistant: Andrea Temesi, Dr. Andrea Sommese
- BSc & MSc students: Sandra Flamand, Roberta Coronas
Collaborative partners: Ákos Pogány, Phd
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