Last updated July 6, 2018 at 5:24 am
Pups’ social learning starts as young as eight weeks.
Every now and again there is a study which seems to just be a convenient excuse for scientists to play with puppies.
This one is no different.
Puppies as young as eight weeks are able to learn by watching, and that includes from humans and stranger dogs, says new research from the Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary.
There is a reason for this study beyond just getting to play with cute dogs. Social learning is really useful for young individuals because it reduces the risks of trial-and-error learning, and is an efficient way of acquiring information.
And while we’ve known that adult dogs are excellent at learning by watching, the question hasn’t been looked at when it comes to puppies.
A giant floofball of science
Researchers tested 48 eight-week-old puppies from a variety of different breeds on their ability to learn to open a puzzle box to receive a food reward inside.
The only hints they were given was a demonstration given by a human, their mother or an unfamiliar dog.
Not only could the puppies open the box regardless of whether a dog or human demonstrated it, they were actually better at it if the demonstration was given by a stranger dog rather than their own mother.
It turns out the clever pups paid more attention to the demonstration performed by the unfamiliar dog (watching for around 44 seconds) than their own mother’s demonstration (which they watched for about 30 seconds).
Amazingly, no matter who the demonstrator was, the dogs weren’t learning through mimicry and imitation but were properly learning how the box functioned. While adult dogs used a mixture of paw or muzzle, the puppies only used their muzzle to operate the catch.
Their newly acquired knowledge was also learnt and stored as a memory as well, with the dogs still able to open the puzzle box an hour later.
By showing this effect, not only have we found that puppies are effective social learners, but that they have a huge flexibility in learning from different social partners, such as humans. While it’s been known that adult dogs can learn from demonstrators of different species, this research has shown that the learning ability develops at a very young age.
Given how much time we spend around dogs, and how important they are to humans throughout our history, it’s more important than you might think at first glance to understand their behaviour.
How do we get a job in these studies?
The research has been published in Scientific Reports