In a new study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, researchers found that pet dogs are capable of more than just learning commands like “fetch the ball,” “sit,” and “roll over.” They can recall what they just did and perform that action when instructed.
The study, conducted by Allison Scagel at the University at Buffalo, is the first to demonstrate that dogs are capable of abstract conceptualization.
As opposed to direct things in the physical world, abstract concepts are usually linked to intelligence in humans. A very small percentage of animals, like dolphins, are capable of reflecting on their past and repeating actions they performed in the recent past. There is no evidence that dogs also possess this potential, so this is a first-of-its-kind study.
Dogs are capable of abstract conceptualization for the first time.
A new cue was then taught to the dogs that eventually became the repeat cue, which consists of a hand gesture and a spoken word. First, Scagel’s team taught the dogs basic actions, such as spinning or lying down. In order to keep the training going, they kept on adding more actions and using the same cue.
In the end, they realized, ‘Oh, this applies to everything that I just did. And I need to repeat what I did last time,'” Scagel explained.
The cognitive leap of a lifetime
Interestingly, when the researchers repeated the cue, the dogs could recall the same action they had created by themselves. I find that to be an impressive cognitive leap. It was still possible for them to come up with something on their own, then recall the action and repeat it,” Scagel told Mashable.
Several examples were given by Scagel. A stool was placed in front of her and her dog sat up on it. In the study, three dogs were trained. With her paw, another dog pulled down a box. Repeat cues allowed them to recall and perform these actions repeatedly.
“And that’s something that is, as far as I know, only been studied in dolphins before.”
“This whole idea that animals can replay their experiences somehow is one that’s of great interest. And so I think this study makes a nice contribution here,” said Colin Allen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies animal cognition. Allen was not involved in this recent study.