Self-Control in the Domestic Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

Principal Investigators: Leslie A. Angel, Ph.D. & Erica Feuerbacher, Ph.D.
Institution:Carroll College


The aim of this study is 1.) to develop an automated procedure to measure self-control in the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) by testing domestic dogs’ choice between a larger, delayed food reward versus a smaller, immediately available food reward and 2.) to determine how self-control strategies develop in dogs as they progress through two unique training programs. Domestic dogs make an excellent model by which to study impulsivity versus self-control due to their complex social behavior, their domestication and coevolution with humans, and because previous self-control measures used among humans and comparative species can be easily applied to the study of domestic dogs. Importantly, self-control is also essential to domestic dogs’ health and livelihood as dogs are most commonly relinquished to shelters due to behavioral issues (Salman et al., 2000) and the occurrence of behavioral issues correlates with higher impulsivity among dogs (Wright, Mills, & Pollux, 2011). An automated, standardized apparatus will be created to easily and accurately measure self-control among dogs. This methodology will be used to collect longitudinal data on canine impulsivity in two training programs that select dogs from shelters, Carroll College’s Anthrozoology program and Working Dogs for Conservation. These two sample groups will serve as models to collect changes in self-control strategies in dogs as they progress through training programs and to ultimately develop assessment tools and training techniques to improve self-control among dogs