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Volume 6 Issue 5 (November 2003), Pages 449-603

Can dogs defy gravity? A comparison with the human infant and a non‐human primate (pages 489-497)


We conducted four experiments with 56 adult dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) involving tasks where food was dropped through an opaque tube connected either vertically or diagonally to one of two or three goal boxes. In the first experiment, modelled after studies with children and primates, the dogs first searched significantly more often in the location directly beneath the drop‐off point (a gravity bias), although this box was not connected with the tube. These results are comparable to those of human infants and cotton‐top tamarins. Experiments 2–4 tested which problem solving strategy the dogs applied to find the food. Results show that they do not understand the physical mechanism of the tube itself, and they apply one of three search strategies: search the gravity box (the one below the drop‐off box); search the box in the middle; learn the correct location of the goal box. When the goal box was in the same location the dogs learned to search there over trials, that is, they learned to ‘defy gravity’, but when the location of the goal box changed over trials they showed no learning. These findings are compared with those from human infants and cotton‐top tamarins: like these species, the dogs can learn to overcome a gravity bias, but only when the reward is to be found in a consistent location.

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