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Human involvement can improve dogs’ problem-solving abilities, a study has found.
Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) assessed how search and rescue (SAR) dogs and pet dogs behaved by giving them an identical problem-solving task. The dogs were tasked to open a puzzle box, which contained a sausage within a two-minute period. The task involved three conditions: the dog alone, the dog with its owner who stood neutrally, and the dog with its owner who gave encouragement.
The experiment’s findings showed that both sets of dogs completed the task at around the same amount of time. However, the SAR dogs accomplished the task more successfully when their owners encouraged them.
Lead author Lauren Brubaker believes that the owners’ behavior, particularly their way of encouragement, influenced the dogs’ problem-solving abilities. Monique Udell, co-author of the study, noted that when the owners guided the SAR dogs, the dogs focused more on solving the puzzle. In contrast, pet dogs took their owners’ encouragement as an invitation to play.
With these findings, the researchers reached the conclusion that the SAR dogs communicated with their owners better than pet dogs.
The findings of the OSU researchers contradict a 1997 study, which examined how the relationship between the dog and its owner could affect the former’s problem-solving abilities. The researchers grouped the dog-and-owner relationship into two: companionship and work relationship.
Upon observation, the researchers found that dogs categorized under companionship were reliant on their owners. This behavior weakened their performance in the problem-solving task. The researchers concluded that the dogs’ decreased performance resulted from a sense of attachment to their owners.