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The effect of early experience on physical cognition in dogs

Intense research of the last years has shown that dogs have evolved specialized skills for reading human social and communicative behavior during the process of domestication (e.g. Viranyi et al., 2006; Szetei et al., 2003; Gacsi et al., 2004; Viranyi et al., 2004; Miklosi & Soproni, 2006), but usually perform rather poorly in the physical domain (e.g. Watson et al., 2001; Collier-Baker et al., 2004; Osthaus et al., 2005). Altogether, these results suggest the lack of abstract representations and inferential reasoning and at the same time a dependency on human-social cues in dogs (Topal et al., 1997). This dog-specific cognitive evolution is especially interesting if dogs are contrasted with great apes, which have evolved powerful inferential skills to solve problems in the physical world associated with finding food (Call, 2004; Call, 2006). However, apes tested for these kinds of studies usually have extensive experience with physical tasks, whereas dogs usually have only experience in the social domain. Thus, it remains unclear which of these differences between primates and dogs are due to experiences during development rather than real species differences. More importantly the questions arises how much experience can influence cognitive abilities within a certain domain. Flexible and creative behaviour in the physical domain requires the ability to distinguish between functional and non-functional properties of objects, to anticipate the effects that objects have on other objects and the acquisition of physical concepts serving as large functional categories (like gravity, force and connectivity). However, it is unrealistic to expect any individual to be capable of solving entirely novel problems with objects or materials they have never had any experience with. In order to investigate the influence of experience on physical cognition in dogs, we intend to systematically enhance the exposure to problems in the physical domain in a group of dog puppies, whereas a control group is only exposed to simple manipulation problems that do not provide information about physical properties. The adult dogs will then be tested with a number of problems where dogs have failed before (e.g. means-end connection, causal understanding) or have never been tested in (e.g. trap tube). In order to control for the effect of human cues, we conduct these latter tests in the absence of human cues. This design will allow us to investigate our main question of the influence of experience in the physical domain on problem solving abilities in the adult dogs. Testing additional adult dog groups with either manipulation experience or not, we will further ponder the questions of the influence of i) manipulation experience, ii) the presence or absence of a human during the experiment, iii) the development of physical cognition in dogs and iv) dogs' physical cognition in several tasks never tested before with this species (e.g. connectivity, gravity). This project is intended as continuation of a previous European-funded project on the evolution, development and intentional control of imitation (EDICI). It would also benefit from collaborations with the Department of Ethology at the Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest (Dr. Miklosi) and the Institute of Developmental Psychology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Prof. Gergely).
Statistik Austria science classification
106051         Behavioural biology
106054         Zoology
501006         Experimental psychology
Das physikalische Verständnis
Project leader
Huber Ludwig
Type of Research
Basic research
Vetmed Research Units
Messerli Research Institute, Comparative Cognition
Funded by
FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Sensengasse 1, 1090 Wien, Austria

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20 Publications

Turcsán, B; Wallis, L; Berczik, J; Range, F; Kubinyi, E; Virányi, Z (2020): Individual and group level personality change across the lifespan in dogs. Sci Rep. 2020; 10(1):17276
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Turcsán, B; Wallis, L; Virányi, Z; Range, F; Müller, CA; Huber, L; Riemer, S (2018): Personality traits in companion dogs-Results from the VIDOPET. PLoS One. 2018; 13(4):e0195448
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Wallis, LJ; Range, F; Kubinyi, E; Chapagain, D; Serra, J; Huber, L (2017): Utilising dog-computer interactions to provide mental stimulation in dogs especially during ageing. ACI 2017 Improv Relat (2017). 2017; 2017:
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Huber, L (2016): How Dogs Perceive and Understand Us. Current Directions in Psychological Science 2016; 25: 339-344

Cimarelli, G; Turcsan, B; Banlaki, Z; Range, F; Viranyi, Z (2016): Dog Owners' Interaction Styles: Their Components and Associations with Reactions of Pet Dogs to a Social Threat. Front Psychol. 2016; 7: 1979
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Riemer, S; Müller, C; Virányi, Z; Huber, L; Range, F (2016): Individual and group level trajectories of behavioural development in Border collies. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2016; 180:78-86
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Müller, CA; Riemer, S; Virányi, Z; Huber, L; Range, F (2016): Inhibitory Control, but Not Prolonged Object-Related Experience Appears to Affect Physical Problem-Solving Performance of Pet Dogs. PLoS One. 2016; 11(2):e0147753
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Wallis, LJ; Virányi, Z; Müller, CA; Serisier, S; Huber, L; Range, F (2016): Aging effects on discrimination learning, logical reasoning and memory in pet dogs. Age (Dordr). 2016; 38(1):6
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Wallis, LJ; Range, F; Müller, CA; Serisier, S; Huber, L; Virányi, Z (2015): Training for eye contact modulates gaze following in dogs. Anim Behav. 2015; 106:27-35
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Pitteri, E; Mongillo, P; Carnier, P; Marinelli, L; Huber, L (2014): Part-based and configural processing of owner"s face in dogs. PLoS One. 2014; 9(9):e108176
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Riemer, S; Müller, C; Virányi, Z; Huber, L; Range, F (2014): The predictive value of early behavioural assessments in pet dogs--a longitudinal study from neonates to adults. PLoS One. 2014; 9(7):e101237
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Huber, L; Heise, N; Zeman, C; Palmers, C (2015): The ALDB box: automatic testing of cognitive performance in groups of aviary-housed pigeons. Behav Res Methods. 2015; 47(1):162-171

Müller, CA; Riemer, S; Virányi, Z; Huber, L; Range, F (2014): Dogs learn to solve the support problem based on perceptual cues. Anim Cogn. 2014; 17(5):1071-1080
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Stephan, C; Wilkinson, A; Huber, L (2013): Pigeons discriminate objects on the basis of abstract familiarity. Anim Cogn. 2013; 16(6):983-992

Huber, L; Racca, A; Scaf, B; Virányi, Z; Range, F (2013): Discrimination of familiar human faces in dogs (Canis familiaris). Learn Motiv. 2013; 44(4):258-269
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Wilkinson, A; Mueller-Paul, J; Huber, L (2013): Picture-object recognition in the tortoise Chelonoidis carbonaria. Anim Cogn. 2013; 16(1):99-107

Müller, CA; Riemer, S; Rosam, CM; Schößwender, J; Range, F; Huber, L (2012): Brief owner absence does not induce negative judgement bias in pet dogs. Anim Cogn. 2012; 15(5):1031-1035
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Stephan, C; Wilkinson, A; Huber, L (2012): Have we met before Pigeons recognise familiar human faces. Avian Biol Res (5), 2 75-80.

Westphal-Fitch, G; Huber, L; Gómez, JC; Fitch, WT (2012): Production and perception rules underlying visual patterns: effects of symmetry and hierarchy. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012; 367(1598):2007-2022
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Mueller-Paul, J; Wilkinson, A; Hall, G; Huber, L (2012): Radial-arm-maze behavior of the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria). J Comp Psychol. 2012; 126(3):305-317

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