The Dog Days of Summer: Transferring Information

Adapted from pages 122-123 of The Dog:

Dogs have been exposed to selection that favored the development of an understanding of the social world. Living in the anthropogenic environment, dogs must be able to acquire and store information coming from a range of social partners in order to work well among humans—a phenomenon called social learning.

Even though they are predators, dogs are able to learn socially about food, which affects their preference. Alongside genetically influenced preferences or disgust toward certain flavors, dogs can also follow the example of conspecifics in deciding what to eat. Dog embryos in the womb experience the mother’s diet (via the joint blood circulation) and as puppies when sucking her milk. Older dogs may sniff the breath of their dog (or even human) companion, and this can make them show a preference for what the other has just consumed at a later time.

Dogs gain information about each other by smelling the other’s face. Apart from recognizing the identity of a partner, dogs may also learn about what the other has just eaten. Photo credit: everydoghasastory, Shutterstock

Dogs may also use different mechanisms, such as direct observation, when relying on conspecifics’ examples in overcoming problems. In studies exploring how observation leads to learning and  knowing, a selected dog (the demonstrator) is trained to perform a task, such as using its paws to pull a tray containing food inside its cage. Following that, other, task-naïve dogs are allowed to observe the demonstrator dog solving the problem. Next, one of the observer dogs is confronted with the task to see how much it grasped by watching.

Results show that dogs have a tendency to reproduce the observed actions, and thus find the solution easier than by individual learning, relying on their trial-error skills. By doing so they may rely on different kinds of information. For example, it may be that the behavior of the demonstrator dog directs the observer’s attention to certain parts of the object or the environment and later this helps the learner to figure out the solution on its own. However, dogs may also be capable of recognizing the relationship between the demonstrator’s goal and action. In this case, the observer dogs may choose to act in the same way as they saw the demonstrator act.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.


This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< The Dog Days of Summer: Bonding with HumansThe Dog Days of Summer: Sniffing & Smelling >>