Do as I Do – Social learning in dog training

Principal Investigators: Claudia Fugazza & Ádám Miklósi, Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group

Despite scientific evidence that dogs are predisposed to learn socially and show imitative abilities from human demonstrators, dog-training methods have always traditionally relied only on individual learning (operant and classical conditioning).

Recently social learning has been introduced in the applied field of dog training by the Do as I Do method (after Topál et al. 2006) and the idea of teaching socially seems very appealing for dog owners and trainers.

In a previous study (Fugazza et al. 2013 manuscript) we compared the effectiveness of this new training method with that of a popular training technique based on individual learning – Shaping/Clicker training – to teach dogs specific actions. The time needed by experienced trainers to make their dogs perform for the first time the predetermined task proved generally shorter with the Do as I Do method than when Shaping/Clicker training was used.

The aim of this study is to assess if the consistency of the learned behaviour, the memory of its verbal cue, and its resistance to extinction are affected by the training method used. As dogs are predisposed to learn socially from humans, we expect that the social demonstration will positively affect the variables under study.

The results will shed light on the effects of the use of social learning in dog training and will help practitioners to choose among training methods, given a specific result to be obtained. Owners and dogs are also expected to develop a closer relationship with the introduction of social learning in the training practice.