Agility and search and rescue training differently affects pet dogs' behaviour in socio-cognitive tasks

Behav Processes. 2009 Jul;81(3):416-22. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.03.015.


Both genetic factors and life experiences appear to be important in shaping dogs' responses in a test situation. One potentially highly relevant life experience may be the dog's training history, however few studies have investigated this aspect so far. This paper briefly reviews studies focusing on the effects of training on dogs' performance in cognitive tasks, and presents new, preliminary evidence on trained and untrained pet dogs' performance in an 'unsolvable task'. Thirty-nine adult dogs: 13 trained for search and rescue activities (S&R group), 13 for agility competition (Agility group) and 13 untrained pets (Pet group) were tested. Three 'solvable' trials in which dogs could obtain the food by manipulating a plastic container were followed by an 'unsolvable' trial in which obtaining the food became impossible. The dogs' behaviours towards the apparatus and the people present (owner and researcher) were analysed. Both in the first 'solvable' and in the 'unsolvable' trial the groups were comparable on actions towards the apparatus, however differences emerged in their human-directed gazing behaviour. In fact, results in the 'solvable' trial, showed fewer S&R dogs looking back at a person compared to agility dogs, and the latter alternating their gaze between person and apparatus more frequently than pet dogs. In the unsolvable trial no difference between groups emerged in the latency to look at the person however agility dogs looked longer at the owner than both pet and S&R dogs; whereas S&R dogs exhibited significantly more barking (always occurring concurrently to looking at the person or the apparatus) than both other groups. Furthermore, S&R dogs alternated their gaze between person and apparatus more than untrained pet dogs, with agility dogs falling in between these two groups. Thus overall, it seems that the dogs' human-directed communicative behaviours are significantly influenced by their individual training experiences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Cognition*
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • Eye Movements
  • Food
  • Human-Animal Bond
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Problem Solving
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal