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Overimitation in dogs: is there a link to the quality of the relationship with the caregiver?

By L. Huber, D. Kubala, G. Cimarelli

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Overimitation, the copying of causally irrelevant or non-functional actions, is well-known from humans but completely absent in other primates. Recent studies from our lab have provided evidence for overimitation in canines. Previously, we found that half of tested pet dogs copied their human caregiver's irrelevant action, while only few did so when the action was demonstrated by an unfamiliar experimenter. Therefore, we hypothesized that dogs show overimitation as a result of socio-motivational grounds. To test this more specifically, here we investigated how the relationship with the caregiver influenced the eagerness to overimitate. Given the high variability in the tendency to overimitate their caregiver, we hypothesized that not only familiarity but also relationship quality influences whether dogs faithfully copy their caregiver. For this purpose, on the one hand we measured the overimitation tendency (with the same test as in the two studies before) and on the other hand the relationship quality between the dogs and their caregivers. Although we found no significant correlation between the two test results, our data might suggest that, on average, dogs who overimitated seemed to show more referential and affiliative behaviours towards the owner than dogs who showed less or no copying of the irrelevant action. Notably, as a group, those dogs that showed the highest level of copying accuracy of the irrelevant action showed the highest level of gazing and synchronization towards the owner.

Publication Title Animals
Volume 12
Issue 3
ISBN/ISSN 2076-2615
DOI 10.3390/ani12030326
Author Address Clever Dog Lab, Comparative Cognition, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna, 1210 Vienna,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal communication
  3. Animals
  4. Anthrozoology
  5. Behavioral research
  6. Canidae
  7. Canine
  8. Carnivores
  9. Dogs
  10. Learning
  11. Mammals
  12. open access
  13. Pets and companion animals
  14. vertebrates
  15. Zoology
  1. open access