How Smart is Your Dog? An Experimental Analysis of Canine Learning Abilities
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This report centers around the designing of an experimental protocol appropriate for, and the subsequent testing of, domestic dogs on two types of learning tasks: conditional discriminations (i.e., “if...then” statements) and stimulus equivalence (i.e., inferential learning). To date, only studies using verbal humans have produced definitive demonstrations of stimulus equivalence, for which conditional discriminations are a prerequisite skill. Numerous studies have failed to find evidence of this ability in a variety of nonhuman animals (e.g., pigeons, sea lions, chimpanzees, macaques) and the few studies yielding positive results have been heavily criticized on the grounds of methodological inconsistencies. Testing humans with impaired verbal abilities has also produced variable results, raising questions about connections between stimulus equivalence and language acquisition. Compared to the wild animals previously tested, domestic dogs have a unique evolutionary history that may have led to the development of human-like cognitive abilities. However, those abilities have not yet been tested under wellcontrolled experimental conditions.