Tag Archives: learning

Teaching wolves new tricks

The process of learning often involves mimicry or imitation.  In research published in the journal PLoS One, scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna report on their behaviour experiments involving wolves and dogs.

The results show that wolves observe one another more closely than dogs and so are better at learning from one another. 

Photo Credit: Walter Vorbeck

Photo Credit: Walter Vorbeck

The scientists found that wolves are considerably better than dogs at opening a container, providing they have previously watched another animal do so. Their study involved 14 wolves and 15 mongrel dogs, all about six months old, hand-reared and kept in packs.

Each animal was allowed to observe one of two situations in which a trained dog opened a wooden box, either with its mouth or with its paw, to gain access to a food reward. Surprisingly, all of the wolves managed to open the box after watching a dog solve the puzzle, while only four of the dogs managed to do so. Wolves more frequently opened the box using the method they had observed, whereas the dogs appeared to choose randomly whether to use their mouth or their paw.

The researchers think that it is likely that the dog-human cooperation originated from cooperation between wolves. During the process of domestication, dogs have become able to accept humans as social partners and thus have adapted their social skills to include interactions with them, concomitantly losing the ability to learn by watching other dogs.

Source:  University of Vienna media release

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How your dog matches words to objects

Researchers at the University of Lincoln (UK) have published a study based on the learning patterns of a Border Collie named Gable.  They wanted to see if Gable could match words with objects based on shape, which is the learning pattern in humans of toddler age.

Credit: Sally Smith; van der Zee E, Zulch H, Mills D (2012) Word Generalization by a Dog (Canis familiaris): Is Shape Important?

Gable could identify an object by name, but over time he associated the same word with objects of similar texture or size (not shape).

The researchers concluded that where shape matters for humans, size or texture appears to be the dominating issue for a dog.

This is small study (using only one dog) but it does provide insight into the learning and development of dogs.  I’m sure there is more to come in this research field.

Source:  Word Generalization by a Dog (Canis familiaris): Is Shape Important?