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Assistance and Therapy Dogs Are Better Problem Solvers Than Both Trained and Untrained Family Dogs

By F. Carballo, C. M. Cavalli, M. Gacsi, A. Miklosi, E. Kubinyi

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When faced with unsolvable or difficult situations dogs use different behavioral strategies. If they are motivated to obtain rewards, they either try to solve the problem on their own or tend to interact with a human partner. Based on the observation that in problem situations less successful and less perseverant dogs look more at the humans' face, some authors claim that the use of social strategies is detrimental to attempting an independent solution in dogs. Training may have an effect on dogs' problem-solving performance. We compared the behavior of (1) untrained, (2) trained for recreational purposes, and (3) working dogs: assistance and therapy dogs living in families (N = 90). During the task, dogs had to manipulate an apparatus with food pellets hidden inside. We measured the behaviors oriented toward the apparatus and behaviors directed at the owner/experimenter, and ran a principal component analysis. All measures loaded in one factor representing the use of the social strategy over a more problem-oriented strategy. Untrained dogs obtained the highest social strategy scores, followed by dogs trained for recreational purposes, and assistance and therapy dogs had the lowest scores. We conclude that assistance and therapy dogs' specific training and working experience (i.e., to actively help people) favors their independent and more successful problem-solving performance. General training (mainly obedience and agility in this study) also increases problem-oriented behavior.

Publication Title Front Vet Sci
Volume 7
Pages 164
ISBN/ISSN 2297-1769 (Print)2297-1769
DOI 10.3389/fvets.2020.00164
Language eng
Notes Carballo, FabricioCavalli, Camilla MariaGacsi, MartaMiklosi, AdamKubinyi, EnikoJournal ArticleSwitzerlandFront Vet Sci. 2020 Mar 31;7:164. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00164. eCollection 2020.
Author Address Department of Ethology, Institute of Biology, ELTE Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary.Instituto de Ciencias Biologicas y Biomedicas del Sur (INBIOSUR), Departamento de Biologia Bioquimica y Farmacia, Universidad Nacional del Sur (UNS)- Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (CONICET), Bahia Blanca, Argentina.Grupo de Investigacion del Comportamiento en Canidos (ICOC), Instituto de Investigaciones Medicas (IDIM), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina.MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, Budapest, Hungary.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal cognition
  2. Gazing
  3. Human-animal interactions
  4. Persistence
  5. Working animals