How to Deal With Aggressive Dogs at the Dog Park
For years dog owners have sworn that their pets come to look like them
By Stephen Adams
For years dog owners have sworn that their pets come to look like them.
Now scientists have discovered the first hard evidence that the animals actually behave like their masters too.
Just like children, they adopt a ‘look and learn’ approach which means they cannot help but mimic humans’ actions when going about canine tasks.
The results have been seized upon by dog trainers as proof that owners can “positively influence the behaviour of our pets”.
So hard-wired is ‘man’s best friend’ to learn in such a manner, said the academics, that this could have had a greater effect on how they behave, than their selective breeding by humans over at least 10,000 years of domestication.
Biologists and psychologists at the universities of Vienna and Oxford collaborated to design an experiment to test the theory that dogs do have a “social” capacity to copy what they see, using a simple wooden box.
In the study, 10 owners showed their dogs how to open the wooden box, sometimes using their heads to push a handle and sometimes using their hands.
In the first part of the test, five dogs were rewarded with a piece of sausage for copying their owners’ actions.
The other five were rewarded with food for not copying, and using the alternative method.
With each dog the experiment was repeated hundreds of times, and the time taken for a dog to get it ‘right’ on 85 per cent of attempts (17 goes out of 20) was recorded.
The dogs encouraged to mirror their owners reached this point almost three times sooner, on average, than those rewarded for not copying them.
In the second part of the test, all the dogs were only rewarded for copying the method their owner used.
The five dogs previously rewarded for copying their owners reached the 85 per cent mark more than twice as quickly as the other five.
Writing in a paper published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society, they concluded: “This suggests that, like humans, dogs are subject to ‘automatic imitation’.”
Like humans, dogs cannot help imitating actions they see.
The dogs break down what they see into an “order of elements in a novel sequence of body movements”, they explained.
Critically, “observation of each element automatically activates a corresponding motor programme”.
Going further, they said the results “suggest that the imitative behaviour of dogs is shaped more by their developmental interactions with humans than by their evolutionary history of domestication”.
Caroline Kisko, from The Kennel Club, commented: “The findings confirm what many owners and people involved with dogs have known for years.
“A dog’s behaviour is influenced much like that of a child; through socialisation, learning right from wrong and adopting similar patterns of behaviour.
“We hope that owners understand the importance of their actions and use this knowledge to set good examples and therefore positively influence the behaviour of their pets.”
However, she was less convinced that copying behaviour could lead to animals mirroring their owners in appearance too.
“Regarding dogs looking like their owners, we have thought that people choose dogs to suit them and may inadvertently choose a dog with a similar look to themselves,” she said.
Originally posted on: AmericaOnCoffee