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Factors affecting response of dogs to obedience instruction: a field and experimental study

By Maya Braem and Daniel Mills

Abstract

Communication is an essential component of the translation of learning theory into the practical control of the behaviour of dogs. A handler sends a signal (e.g. a command), to which their dog responds. This response is dependent on the dog’s perception of the signal rather than the intention of the sender. Previous research has shown that a dog’s response can be influenced by specific changes in the verbal and non-verbal qualities of signals (i.e. the commands) used, but there has been little scientific evaluation of what happens in practice. Therefore in a first study, 56 dog handlers were videotaped giving their dogs a “sit” command and the significance of verbal and non-verbal factors on response was analyzed. Two factors were associated with a significant decrease in obedience: the dog’s attention to its handler and the handler giving additional verbal information preceding the actual verbal command. Based on these results, a second more controlled study was run with 12 dogs that were trained to a new (“uff”, i.e. jumping onto a raised surface) and a known (“sit”, “down” or “paw”) command. Once trained to predefined criteria, dogs were tested for their responsiveness with each of three additional types of verbal information preceding the command: the dog’s name, the dog’s name followed by a pause of 2 seconds and a “novel word”, i.e. a word with no established relationships in this context (“Banane”). The results suggest that the addition of the novel word significantly reduced response to both the known (p = 0.014) and the new (p = 0.014) commands. The name plus a pause preceding the command significantly reduced the response to the new command (p = 0.043), but not the known one. The use of the name before the command without a pause had no significant effect on performance. The dogs’ ability to generalize learned commands from the training context to a new context was tested by going through the same procedure in an unfamiliar environment. There was a significant reduction in correct responses only to the new command independent of the preceding verbal information (name (p = 0.028), name plus pause (p = 0.022) and novel word (p = 0.011)). This suggests that dogs may have more difficulties generalizing a less well-established command than an already known command

Topics: C120 Behavioural Biology, D210 Clinical Veterinary Medicine, D328 Animal Welfare
Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.applanim.2010.03.004
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lincoln.ac.uk:2654

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