The effect of early experience on physical cognition in dogs

Corsin Müller, Stefanie Riemer, Zsófia Virányi, Ludwig Huber, Friederike Range

Do dogs’ ability to succeed in physical tasks depends on their experiences during early development? Recent evidence suggests that dogs excel in tasks requiring social skills, particularly those involving their human counterparts, but less so in physical ones, whereas great apes are very good at physical tasks but show inferior performances in the social domain.

These differences have been linked to specific selection for the ability to communicate with humans during dog domestication. However, an individual’s cognitive skills are not only influenced by its evolutionary history, but also by its experience gathered throughout life. To investigate the effect of early experience on physical cognition, we will provide a group of dog puppies with specific tasks designed to give them opportunities to learn about physical rules such as the effects of gravity or the consequences of interactions between objects.

We will then test whether these puppies develop cognitive skills in the physical domain, which are superior to those of a control group of puppies that only gained experience with simple manipulative tasks. In addition, we will run tests to explore the influence of human presence on the performance in physical cognition tasks.