Effects of training and experience on cognitive abilities dogs

Principal Investigator: Lucia Lazarowski, M.A.
Institution: Auburn University


Domestication may have led to unique cognitive skills in dogs, enabling them to occupy a significant niche in human society in companion and working roles. Considerable research has revealed the sophisticated socio-cognitive abilities of dogs unparalleled in other species, but findings are limited to pets and neglects other important sub-populations such as working dogs. Due to varying cognitive demands and associated interaction with humans involved in different types of training, we may expect to see differences in the social and non-social skills of dogs trained to work in cooperation with people or independently, and dogs living as pets versus shelter dogs. Moreover, despite many dogs experiencing some type of training in their lives, little is known about resulting effects on cognition. Understanding how training may influence cognitive processes and resulting differences depending on training-related factors will contribute to the ongoing debate regarding the origins of cognitive skills in dogs, and has implications for improving training methods and selecting and training dogs for specific tasks. The proposed study will measure differences in cognitive abilities between two groups of working dogs differing in degree of corresponding human interaction involved in the role (i.e., detection and service dogs) and two groups of non-working dogs with differing life experiences (i.e., pet and shelter dogs). Three measures of social cognition will be used to measure human-guided behavior (object-choice task), human-directed behavior (unsolvable task), empathy (contagious yawning), and one non-social task (inhibitory control) will be use to assess general differences in cognitive function.