Impact of Training Discipline and Experience on Inhibitory Control and Cognitive Performance in Pet Dogs

Nerys Mellor, Sebastian McBride, Emma Stoker, Sarah Dalesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Training experience has been shown to enhance a dog’s cognitive performance when comparing highly trained working or sporting dogs with untrained dogs. However, whether the type or level of training a pet dog receives can alter their performance in cognitive tasks requiring inhibitory control has not been assessed. Here, we tested whether pet dogs trained in scent work, agility, and obedience differ in cognitive performance. The impact of primary training discipline and combined training experience was assessed using two well-defined tasks that require inhibitory control: (1) the A-not-B task, in which dogs must inhibit a previously learned response in favour of an alternative response; and (2) the detour task, in which dogs must inhibit a direct approach to food to gain a reward. Dogs trained in scent work demonstrated higher levels of inhibitory control and persistence across the two tasks, but this did not affect individual task performance. Increased combined training experience improved learning in the A-not-B task training phase, but did not alter performance during the test phase, whereas it had no effect on success in the detour task. Overall, dogs that performed better in the A-not-B task were also more likely to succeed in the detour task, showing a relationship in the cognitive ability underpinning performance in the two tasks. The effect of the primary discipline on the behavioural phenotype shows that this should be accounted for in future studies, rather than applying the practice of partitioning dogs into highly trained vs. untrained groups.

Simple Summary
Training experience has been shown to have positive impacts on the behaviour of dogs when solving cognitive tasks, but previous work has focused on comparing highly trained working and sporting dogs with untrained pet dogs. Here, we assessed whether training a pet dog in scent work, agility, and obedience can also improve the dog’s ability in two tasks: (1) the A-not-B task, in which a dog first learns to go to a pot on one side of a three-pot lineup to obtain a reward and then must change this behaviour to go to the pot on the opposite side; and (2) the detour task, in which a dog must navigate around a transparent barrier to obtain a visible reward. Dogs that performed better on the A-not-B task were also more likely to be successful in the detour task, showing that there is a relationship between the skills required to perform well in both tasks. Training did not affect overall performance in either task, but dogs trained in scent work showed better inhibitory control across the two tasks. This indicates that scent training for pet dogs may be beneficial in improving behaviours that require inhibition.
Original languageEnglish
Article number428
Number of pages24
JournalAnimals
Volume14
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2024

Keywords

  • A-not-B task
  • canine
  • cognition
  • detour task
  • domestic dogs
  • impulsivity
  • inhibitory control
  • persistence

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