Puppy power! Using Social Cognition Research Tasks to Improve Socialization Practices for Domestic Dogs

Scientific Journal Articles

Understanding the psychology of the domestic dog is a key element in both research and clinical applications for veterinary behaviorists. This article summarizes social cognitive skills observed in dogs in recent cognition studies. The tasks are grouped into the following 2 categories: those which facilitate eye contact between dogs and human beings, and social learning tasks. We also describe easy-to-implement experimental paradigms, previously used in cognitive tests for adult dogs, which we recommend adapting for use with puppies as young as 3 weeks of age. We highlight specific ways by which breeders may alter setup of these tasks to further generalize the social cognitive benefits for the puppies. Furthermore, studies of social development in puppies would enable researchers to explore whether encouragement of the skills examined have a positive effect on behavior as adults, and should thus be specifically incorporated into socialization practices by all breeders and new owners. Thus, the practical applications of this knowledge could include informing best practices for early age socialization by breeders, while puppies are still in the litter, and by new owners when they initially acquire a puppy. This could potentially increase the number of dogs that are well adjusted for human society and thus reduce the number surrendered to shelters. Finally, we discuss the ethical implications of working with puppies in particular and with companion animals generally; the positioning of veterinary clinicians and researchers between the scientific and lay worlds can improve understanding within the community of the benefits that minimally invasive companion animal research can provide.

Howell, T.J. and Bennett, P.C. (2011). Puppy power! Using social cognition research tasks to improve socialization practices for domestic dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 6(3), 195-204.

Photo: iStock.com/Ksenia Raykova

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Topic(s): Breeder Resource, Socialization