How dogs learn tricks from humans and imitate them

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 17, 2013 09:20 hrs

A new study has revealed that dogs can learn, retain and replay actions taught by humans after a short delay.

According to the study by Claudia Fugazza and Adam Miklosi, from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, this deferred imitation provides the first evidence of dogs' cognitive ability to both encode and recall actions.

Domestic dogs are particularly keen on relying on human communication cues. They learn by observing humans and are easily influenced by humans in learning situations. Living in human social groups may have favored their ability to learn from humans.

Fugazza and Miklosi looked at whether dogs possess the cognitive ability of deferred imitation.

Eight adult pet dogs were trained by their owners with the 'Do as I do' method and then made to wait for short intervals (5-30 seconds) before they were allowed to copy the observed human action, for example walk around a bucket or ring a bell.

The researchers observed whether the dogs were able to imitate human actions after delays ranging from 40 seconds to 10 minutes, during which time the dogs were distracted by being encouraged to take part in other activities.

The researchers were looking for evidence of the dogs' ability to encode and recall the demonstrated action after an interval.

The tests show that dogs are able to reproduce familiar actions and novel actions after different delays - familiar actions after intervals as long as ten minutes; novel tasks after a delay of one minute.

This ability was seen in different conditions, even if they were distracted by different activities during the interval.

"The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that the dogs have a mental representation of the human demonstration. In addition, the ability to imitate a novel action after a delay without previous practice suggests the presence of a specific type of long-term memory in dogs. This would be so-called 'declarative memory,' which refers to memories which can be consciously recalled, such as facts or knowledge," the authors said.

The study is published in Springer's journal Animal Cognition. (ANI)

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