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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


27 March 2014

Do As I Do: Copy Cat Social Imitation in Dog Training

Join us for another guest post, this time from Claudia Fugazza of the Family Dog Project in Budapest. Claudia's here to discuss her recent publication in Applied Animal Behaviour Science on the efficiency of new methods in dog training.

Hi Mia and Julie,

Formal training methods used until now rely mainly on the well-known rules of individual associative learning. These methods work perfectly well for a very wide range of animals — pigeons, rats, dogs and even crabs — and human and non-human animals can learn by ‘click and treat,’ as noted in the popular training book by Karen Pryor.

However, recent research has found substantial evidence that dogs could be predisposed to acquire information socially via the ‘Do as I do’ method. Do as I Do is a relatively new training method for people to use, based on dogs’ social cognitive skills, particularly on their imitative ability. 

With this training technique, dogs learn new behaviors by observing and copying their handler. The dog is a copycat. This method relies on social learning, and it was recently introduced in the applied field of dog training. 

As this method has started spreading in the dog training world, we felt that its efficiency and efficacy needed scientific testing. We were also wanting to know whether this method would be more or less efficient than other current training methods in training for particular behaviors.

We expected that dogs would more easily copy object-related actions from a human demonstrator so we tested dogs’ efficiency in this kind of tasks. To do this, I travelled across Italy and the UK with my video-cameras as well as a heavy Ikea cabinet filled with objects (you can imagine the weird looks I got from security personal at checkpoints!). I used these objects to test dogs learning to open or close drawers and lockers, pick up items from it etc. Since training methods can be affected by the skills of the trainer, only experienced dog-owners pairs who achieved a certificate either for the ‘Do as I do’ method or for shaping / clicker training were included in the study. Each pair was tested using ‘his’ method for teaching three different object-related actions in three testing sessions.

We expected that the ‘Do as I do’ method would prove more efficient for teaching complex tasks, compared to the shaping method that relies on individual learning. This expectation comes from what we know in humans: we tend to rely more on social learning when required to learn something difficult.

Our research found that the ‘Do as I do’ method proved more efficient for teaching dogs complex tasks, like close a drawer, open a locker and pick up an item that was inside (i.e., the time needed by the owner to obtain the first correct performance of the predetermined action was shorter with the ‘Do as I do’ method compared to shaping). We did not find a significant difference in the efficiency of the methods for teaching dogs simple tasks like knocking over a bottle or ringing a bell.

Now that we know a bit more on how to efficiently teach complex object-related actions, we are curious to know what happens when we want to teach different kind of complex actions, like body movements. We also want to know whether introducing social learning in dog training could have an effect on learning cues for trained action. 

We are aware that learning rates can be influenced by many factors, and we acknowledge that this study is just a very first step towards a more scientific approach to training paradigms. However we believe that this kind of information can be very important for the practitioners working in the applied field of dog training. We hope that the readers will not misinterpret the results and will not extend them to different actions and situations that were not tested.

Furthermore we would like to emphasize that, despite being efficient for training some kinds of actions, the ‘Do as I do’ method does not replace the methods based on individual learning (for example think of how many actions are not imitable at all if the demonstrator is a human and the learner is a dog!). Instead ‘Do as I do’ is a useful (and fun!) addition to existing training paradigms. Experienced dog trainers may find effective ways to mix the different training techniques in order to obtain the best results with each dog. 

Claudia Fugazza
Do as I Do Book and DVD
Family Dog Project 

Fugazza C. & Miklósi Á. (2014). Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the Do as I do method and shaping/clicker training method to train dogs, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 153 53-61. DOI:

© Do You Believe in Dog? 2014
p.s. Check out this dog's excellent jump!

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21 March 2014

Pass me the 'dog book'

Hi Mia!

So many books. Written about dogs. Most I see at the airport, memoirs of someone’s ‘very special relationship’ with a 'very special' dog, another about dogs ‘racing in the rain,’ (seems like it would be a pretty short book, or would make a better YouTube video), and some even feature a dog as a private eye (many are fans of this one, see Patricia McConnell’s review).

Sometimes while sitting in the living room I joke with my boyfriend, “Pass me the dog book." Maybe I find this WAY more funny than he does, but like you, I am surrounded by dog books! Right in front of me is The Domestic Dog (Serpell, ed), and to my right I can see Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog (Scott and Fuller). Beneath that is What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs (Warren).

Now we’ll all be surrounded by one more dog book, Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior The Scientific Study of Canis familiaris! This one I am particularly biased towards because it is edited by Alexandra Horowitz, and I co-authored one of the chapters with her. As an edited volume, Horowitz -- and her way with words and dogs (she authored Inside of a Dog) -- stands behind the text, but each chapter has its own focus and tone. The book is in three parts:
  • Part I covers the perceptual abilities of dogs and the effect of interbreeding
  • Part II includes observational and experimental results from studies of social cognition – such as learning and social referencing – and physical cognition in canids
  • Part III summarizes the work in the field to date, reviewing various conceptual and methodological approaches, and testing anthropomorphisms with regard to dogs
  • The final chapter discusses the practical application of behavioral and cognitive results to promote animal welfare

Here’s a look at a few chapters in detail: 

Canine Olfaction: Scent, Sign, and Situation
Think you know canine olfaction? Think again! This chapter by Gadbois and Reeve discusses topics like “zoosemiotics" and “canine olfactory psychoethology.” Yeah! (and yes, the words “peemail” and “Nosebook” appear in this chapter). More about Gadbois and his work here.

Dog Breeds and Their Behavior
This chapter by James Serpell and Deborah Duffy is probably of interest to many (and it is already listed on the book website as “popular content”). They note that while there are some “breed-associated temperament traits, such as, German shorthaired pointers deliberately selected for nervousness/fearfulness,” it’s generally more complex than that on an individual basis. More about Duffy here, and Serpell here (and Serpell edited the 1995 book, The Domestic Dog).

Measuring the Behaviour of Dogs: An Ethological Approach
What do ‘dog cognition’ studies actually look like? This chapter, by Claudia Fugazza and Ádam Miklósi, takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of research in practice with topics like single-subject studies (dogs like Chase, Rico, Betsy etc.), comparative studies, and the presence or absence of owners during cognitive tests. For a further look into dog cognition studies, check out It’s a “web-based system that facilitates the exchange of videos among students of animal behavior.” More about Fugazza here, and Miklósi and the Family Dog Project here.

Looking at Dogs: Moving from Anthropocentrism to Canid Umwelt  
This chapter begins, "As a companion to humans, the domestic dog is naturally interpreted from a human-centered (anthropocentric) perspective." In this chapter, Alexandra Horowitz and I cover recent research into attributions to dogs, particularly the "guilty look" and inequity aversion, as well as factors that can impact peoples' interpretation of "human" in dog. We also investigate anthropocentric and canid-centric elements of our own and others’ research. Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab here

The remaining chapters cover:
  • Marc Bekoff: The Significance of Ethological Studies: Playing and Peeing
  • Ludwig Huber, Friederike Range & Zsófia Virányi: Dog Imitation and Its Possible Origins (Clever Dog Lab)
  • Emanuela Prato-Previde & Sarah Marshall-Pescini: Social Looking in the Domestic Dog (website)
  • Alejandra Rossi, Daniel Smedema, Francisco J. Parada & Colin Allen: Visual Attention in Dogs and the Evolution of Non-Verbal Communication
  • Sylvain Fiset, Pierre Nadeau-Marchand & Nathaniel Hall: Cognitive Development in Gray Wolves: Development of Object Permanence and Sensorimotor Intelligence with Respect to Domestic Dogs (Canine Cognition Lab)
For those working with shelter or working dogs, the final chapter by Rooney and Bradshaw is incredibly useful. Scratch that. Anyone who cares about dogs should understand how animal welfare science can be applied to canines.

What can I say? Books about canine behavior, biology and cognition are great.


Horowitz A. (2014). Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior The Scientific Study of Canis familiaris, DOI:
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12 March 2014

Canines and Castles: 4th Canine Science Forum Abstract & Early Bird Registration Deadline Friday

“Two canine scientists, Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb, met briefly at a conference in Barcelona in late July 2012. They share a passion for canine science, good communication, social media and fun.”

So reads the 'About' page at Do You Believe in Dog?. After a brief hello at the 3rd Canine Science Forum in Barcelona, we decided to embark on an adventure as digital pen pals, taking turns blogging on topics related to our own research, that of other research groups and general dog science themes.  

In the last two years, Do You Believe in Dog? has grown to include a blog with over 100 posts, contributions from guest blogging canine scientists around the world, as well as vibrant Facebook and Twitter communities.

Pretty soon, it’ll be time for the 4th Canine Science Forum (Facebook) July 15-17, 2014 in Lincoln, UK! The conference will be proceeded by the 1st Feline Science Forum, July 14, same location, as well as a day dedicated to Companion Animals - Human Health & Disease, July 18, same location (scroll down for the program).

This is a reminder that this Friday, March 14, 2014, is the deadline for abstract submission and early bird conference registration.

The scientific programme includes a number of already scheduled talks. Read about the invited speakers here:

Prof. Benjamin Hart (USA) From the Woods to Home: What Wolves Tell Us About Dog Behavior

Dr. Mariana Bentosela (Argentina)
‘Reinforcement effects upon interspecific communication in domestic dogs. What do we know so far?’

Dr Erik Axelsson (Sweden) ‘What makes the dog special – The canine genome in comparison with other mammalian genomes’

Prof. Clive D. L. Wynne (USA) ‘Comparative Cognition of Dogs and Wolves: What Makes a Dog a Dog?’

Prof. Claudio Sillero (UK) ‘What shapes dog society? Cooperation in the wonderfully adaptable Canidae’

Dr. John Finarelli (Ireland) ‘Patterns and processes from the fossil record of canids’

Prof. James Serpell (USA) Public Lecture


Did we mention the Gala Dinner is in a Castle?

See you at the 4th Canine Science Forum in Lincoln, UK!

Mia and Julie

Check out some of the science presented at CSF2012:

Cobb M., Branson N. & McGreevy P. (2013). Advancing the welfare of Australia’s iconic working dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e42-e43. DOI:

Hecht J. & Horowitz A. (2013). Physical prompts to anthropomorphism of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e30. DOI:

Racca A., Range F., Virányi Z. & Huber L. (2013). Discrimination of familiar human faces in domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e46. DOI:

Dreschel N.A. & Entendencia K. (2013). Stress during certification testing in prison drug detection dogs and their handlers, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e28. DOI:

Howell T.J., Toukhsati S., Conduit R. & Bennett P. (2013). Do dogs use a mirror to find hidden food?, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (6) 425-430. DOI:

All Abstracts can be viewed in the CSF 2012 Conference Handbook
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5 March 2014

Attachment: measuring our (varying) relationships with dogs.

Hi Julie,

Right off the bat I need to say YES YES YES! 

Your last post about aggression and what we can learn from and about it WITHOUT the need to experience it was spot on. 

Are you THIS attached to your dog? (source)
You’re also right that my head is filled with glorious meta-analysis results right now, as well as perceptions and other measures (#allthemeasures!) as I start preparing my abstracts for submission to be part of the Canine Science Forum.

One of the small but quirky things I’ve noticed in the results of the perceived welfare of dogs survey, is that people seem to think their own pet dog has a much higher level of welfare than everyone else’s pet dog. Why would we think we take better care of our own dogs than anyone else? Now, this could be to do with the self-selected convenience sample of people who took the online questionnaire. Perhaps the 2,146 people who were interested and motivated enough to take the time to do the survey really are the very top of the pile of all dog owners, but I found it interesting all the same.

It got me thinking about our relationships with dogs (Ha! What’s new, right?!). I also happened to have a chat with Hal Herzog (while recording an upcoming episode of Human Animal Science) and, amongst many other things, we talked about how animals and pets aren’t universally beneficial for all people. Some people don’t even like their dogs. We know from extensive research into human psychology that our attitudes are major predictors of our behaviour. So are people who really love their animals more likely to take better care of them? (The answer is no, not always). Why is it that even people like us, who really find dogs fascinating and work with them daily, can feel more of a 'connection' with one individual dog, but not so much another?

Definitely attached to dog (source)
When faced with a question like this, how do we measure these differences scientifically? We can look at (usually self-reported by the human) measures, such as time per day spent in the company, or interacting/sharing activities with pet dogs. This is valuable, but does not necessarily indicate emotional closeness of a person to their dog.

Lucky for me, plenty of psychologists, including earlier members of the Anthrozoology Research Group have tackled this and worked hard to create scales that measure the human-animal bond. The Monash Dog-Owner Relationship Scale, or MDORS as it’s more affectionately known is a great example. MDORS is a series of questions that form a psychometrically sound and validated scale. 

This scale was developed with the assistance of over 1,000 participants and comprises 28 items (statements that you agree/disagree with on a 5 point likert-style scale) across three subscales: Dog–Owner Interaction (e.g. “How often do you play games with your dog”), Perceived Emotional Closeness (e.g. “I wish my dog and I never had to be apart”), and Perceived Costs (e.g. "It is annoying that I sometimes have to change my plans because of my dog"). A scale like this can be used not just to assess how attached people are to their pet dogs, but also to explore how these attachments might vary between dogs, and with different groups of people (e.g. from different countries, with different cultural, work experience or education backgrounds, etc.), making it a very powerful tool for researchers. 

(excerpt from Dwyer et al, 2006)
Used in conjunction with other questionnaires to investigate areas like grief at the loss of a pet, responsible pet ownership practices by owners, oxytocin levels in dogs, or human health benefits derived from pet ownership; attachment measures, like MDORS, can help us learn more about the importance of attachment to successful relationships for both human and dogs.

How many dogs are you attached to? (Flickr)
You might remember Tammie King's research, that used a modified version of the Ainsworth Strange Situation to see what dogs did when separated from their familiar person  and approached by a stranger (in her case, helping to measure the canine trait of amicability through their reaction toward the stranger). Tammie also asked owners to complete the MDORS and used the results in interpreting the canine behavioural data analysis for her PhD.

So often in our research, it's important to measure both sides of the story, because we've learned the experience of the human, or even the human's perception of the dog's experience, just don't match up to the dogs' experience.

I'm pleased to see you'll be tackling topics like these this weekend in San Francisco at the Canine Science Symposium event - yet another great line up of fantastic canine scientists sharing science for everyone:
(Source: Photo Lab Pet Photography)

Meanwhile, I'm getting back to my research and pondering if attachment might relate to perceived welfare of dogs.

Looking forward to your next update,


Further reading:

Dwyer F., Bennett P.C. & Coleman G.J. (2006). Development of the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale (MDORS), Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 19 (3) 243-256. DOI:

Rohlf V.I., Bennett P.C., Toukhsati S. & Coleman G. (2010). Why Do Even Committed Dog Owners Fail to Comply with Some Responsible Ownership Practices?, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 23 (2) 143-155. DOI: 

Archer J. & Ireland J.L. (2011). The Development and Factor Structure of a Questionnaire Measure of the Strength of Attachment to Pet Dogs, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 24 (3) 249-261. DOI:

Handlin L., Nilsson A., Ejdebäck M., Hydbring-Sandberg E. & Uvnäs-Moberg K. (2012). Associations between the Psychological Characteristics of the Human–Dog Relationship and Oxytocin and Cortisol Levels, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 25 (2) 215-228. DOI:

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2014
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