Humans may help boost dogs’ problem-solving ability

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Dog owners, take note! Human encouragement may help your pooches better learn how to solve complex problems, a study has found. Researchers evaluated the behaviour of search and rescue dogs and pet dogs when presented with the same problem-solving task. Both sets of dogs persisted at the task for about the same proportion of time, but the search and rescue dogs were more successful at solving the task when encouraged by their owners.

The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, sheds light on how people influence animal behaviour, said Lauren Brubaker from Oregon State University (OSU) in the US. However, the search and rescue dogs did not solve the task when they were alone. Further, pet dogs that solved the task with their owner present – but not encouraging them – also solved it when they were alone, Brubaker said.

“We thought that was unusual. Because search and rescue dogs are trained to work independently, we expected that they would out-perform pet dogs on this independent task and that wasn’t the case,” she said. “This suggests that the behaviour of the owner, including their expectation of their dog and how they engage with their dog on a day-to-day basis, may influence the dog during a problem-solving task,” she said.

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