Delayed Imitation in Dogs

By November 30 | See Comments

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Delayed Imitation in Dogs

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As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; and your dog may be adhering to it. Ever wonder if your dog can copy your behavior and reproduce the same? Well, research suggests she can, albeit after a short delay. A 2013 study revealed that dogs are able to retain what they see and replicate it after almost 10 minutes of it happening.This kind of ‘deferred [or delayed] imitation’ in dogs was known since 2006. Until then, this process, which is mentally tasking, was only seen in humans and apes. The feat was first observed in a dog named Philip, where researcher József Topál used an imitation method developed for chimpanzees to train him. The method, called ‘Do As I Do’ was developed in the 1950s by Keith and Catherine Hayes. It was merely a study of the dog’s imitative ability and was largely brushed under the rug.In 2013, ethologists Dr. Adam Miklosi and Claudia Fugazza from the University of Eotvos Lorand in Hungary, set out to prove that dogs do indeed possess imitation skills. They put forth two steps that a dog usually follows for repetition.

  1. Do As I Do – The dog follows the action being shown to her.
  2. Do it – The dog imitates the action.

Between the two steps, the dog had to have time to process the action and imitate it. The researchers wanted to see if ‘deferred imitation’ was possible. To make this possible, dogs in the research were given the ‘Do As I Do’ command, made to wait for a period of 30 seconds (with an increase each time), and then given the ‘Do It’ command. After a series of tests, they found out that dogs could imitate actions with a break of up to 10 minutes.This enabled them to observe that dogs have a declarative memory where they are able to recall facts and events. Basically, dogs can repeat actions even when the final command was given by someone other than the demonstrator (the person who performed the action).The research showed that dogs can imitate familiar and novel actions after different delay times. Novel actions were performed after a delay of a minute or two whereas familiar actions could be imitated even after a delay of ten minutes. And this, even with distractions during the break.In conclusion, the research suggests, “The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that the dogs have a mental representation of the human demonstration.” In basic terms, it means dogs have a specific type of long-term memory similar to humans. They are able to watch an action and repeat it after a considerable delay. Thus, it becomes easy to teach them simple and useful tasks to copy.

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