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Type of publication: Journal Article
Type of document: Full Paper

Year: 2018

Authors: Huber, L; Popovov√°, N; Riener, S; Salobir, K; Cimarelli, G

Title: Would dogs copy irrelevant actions from their human caregiver?

Source: Learn Behav. 2018; 46(4):387-397

Authors Vetmeduni Vienna:

Cimarelli Giulia
Huber Ludwig
Salobir Kaja

Vetmed Research Units
Messerli Research Institute, Comparative Cognition
Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology


  • Clifford T. Morgan Best Article Award.

  • Abstract:
    Companion dogs learn easily from humans, including human behavior, human communication, and some aspects of the human-made environment. They benefit from having the opportunity to learn from humans and are able to spontaneously synchronize their behavior with that of their caregiver. Here, we tested whether pet dogs would show a special form of observational learning, one that has been considered uniquely human. Indeed, humans show overimitation, the faithful copying of causally irrelevant actions, but great apes do not. Because in humans this peculiar form of imitation is strongly motivated by social factors, such as affiliation or conformity, we hypothesized that domesticated and enculturated dogs are more likely than apes are to copy such actions, especially if shown by their affiliated caregiver. Indeed, half of the dogs replicated a causally irrelevant action that was demonstrated by their caregiver, and about the same number did this whether they saw only this action being demonstrated or being demonstrated before or after a causally relevant, functional action. The demonstration of a causally relevant action, one that is immediately followed by access to food, thus does not inhibit the copying of an action that is spatially separated and functionally opaque. Given that the copying frequency in this study was low overall, these results suggest evidence for overimitation in dogs, which might challenge the human uniqueness of this type of social learning.

    Keywords Pubmed: Animals
    Imitative Behavior
    Social Behavior

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