When you take home your newly adopted family member, he finds himself submerged in a totally new world and has much to learn about it. It turns out your puppy learns not only from other experienced dogs, but from you too.
Researchers of the Family Dog Project working at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, discovered that dog puppies as young as 8-weeks old can learn to solve new tasks from humans and from adult conspecifics. The researchers baited a puzzle box with food and showed how to open it to retrieve the treat to puppies of various breeds. After the demonstration, the puppies were allowed to try to do it on their own. The demonstrations were done either by a trained adult dog or by the human experimenter. “The puppies that watched the demonstrator opening the puzzle box were more successful in solving the task than puppies that could not observe how to solve the trick” explains Claudia Fugazza, lead researched of the project.
This new study, published in Scientific Reports, also reveals that puppies make use of such learned new skills and information later. “The puppies were then tested again, after a delay of 1 hour, but this time without demonstration”, continues Dr. Fugazza. “This way we could test whether they had acquired information that they could retain in their memory for some time”.
The researchers also set out to test whether puppies learned from an unfamiliar dog as well as from their mother. The results were unexpected, as puppies learned more from the unfamiliar dog! “We were surprised by this result, so we decided to investigate further the possible reasons behind by comparing how much time puppies spent looking at the demonstration performed by the mother and by the unfamiliar dog”, tells us Ákos Pogány, co-author of the study. “We found that puppies spent more time watching the unfamiliar dog than watching their mother. Probably the unfamiliar dog is a novelty for them, so they are more interested in it and, as a consequence, this creates more opportunity to learn from it”. Much like teenagers learning from their chosen role models, such as celebrities, more likely than from their very own parents (to their regret, most likely …).
From an applied perspective the ability of social learning in puppies may pave the way for new training methods: “The early development of social learning in dog puppies should be taken into account in training procedures”, argues Ádám Miklósi, co-author and head of the Department of Ethology. “Our study suggests that the easiest and most natural way to teach them what to do and how to do it is perhaps simply by showing them and encouraging them.”. …Well, maybe not in the case of house-training though!
Claudia Fugazza, Alexandra Moesta, Ákos Pogány and Ádám Miklósi: Social learning from conspecifics and humans in dog puppies, Scientific Reports (in press)
Corresponding author: Dr. Claudia Fugazza firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. +393382064951