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Effect of odor preexposure on acquisition of an odor discrimination in dogs

By Nathan Hall, David Smith, Clive Wynne

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In two experiments we investigated the impact of odor pre-exposure treatments on the acquisition of an olfactory discrimination in dogs. In the first experiment four groups of dogs were each given five days odor-exposure treatment prior to discrimination training. Dogs in the exposure group were exposed to anise extract (S+) for 30 minutes daily. Dogs in the Pavlovian-relevant pairing group received six daily delayed conditioning trials to the same S+. The Pavlovian-irrelevant pairing group received conditioning trials to almond extract (S'). Dogs in the control group received no pre-treatment. All dogs were then trained to detect S+ from a background pine odor (an AX vs X discrimination). The Pavlovian-relevant pairing group acquired the odor discrimination significantly faster than all the other exposure and control groups, and the remaining groups acquired the discrimination at the same rate as the no exposure control group. In a second experiment, we extended these results to a within-subject design using an AX vs. BX discrimination. Six dogs were simultaneously trained on two different odor discriminations, one discrimination in which the S+ was previously Pavlovian conditioned, and one discrimination in which the S+ was novel. All dogs learned the odor discrimination with the previously conditioned S+ faster than the novel odor discrimination, replicating the results of Experiment 1 and demonstrating that familiarity in the form of Pavlovian conditioning enhances odor-discrimination training. The potential mechanisms of the facilitated transfer of a Pavlovian CS to discrimination training are discussed.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2014
Publication Title Learning and Behavior
Volume 44
Pages 144-152
DOI DOI: 10.3758/s13420-013-0133-7
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Conditioning
  3. Detection
  4. Dogs
  5. Mammals
  6. odors