Has the domestication of dogs also changed their ability to learn from each other? A recent study performed by the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, seems to indicate that this is the case.
In a simple experiment, the researchers determined that wolves have the ability to learn by observing a dog carrying out an action, while most dogs in the study did not. In the set-up, both wolves and dogs observed a trained dog using a lever to open a box and receive a treat.
Throughout the trials, all of the wolves succeeded on their first try at copying the actions of the trained dog to open the box. Only four of the dogs were able to do so and, out of these, only two of the dogs succeeded multiple times. The wolves and dogs had all been raised together since they were pups, and had been given equal socialization among other wolves, dogs, and humans.
The initial studies took place when the wolves and dogs were six months old. However, to rule out the idea that the results were due to the wolves’ earlier cognitive development, the study was repeated nine months later, when all of the animals were adults, with the same results.
The study concluded that wolves are capable of imitation, and so “are likely to pay closer attention to the actions of social partners and thus may have a higher tendency to socially learn from or even imitate each other’s actions.”
In the context of a wolf pack, this behavior makes sense. But domestic dogs are descended from wolves, so why the difference? Researchers still aren’t sure, but they propose that “dog-human cooperation has likely originated from wolf-wolf cooperation, potentially by (dogs) becoming able to easily accept humans as social partners and thus, extending their relevant social skills to interactions with them.”
This is yet another reason that we need to remember to be the Pack Leader. Our dogs are watching us and looking for clues on how to behave. We have to make sure that we are sending them the right message.
Can your dog learn by imitating other dogs or people? Let us know in the comments!