It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery so of course leave it to our dogs to give us that boost. A recent study reveals that dogs have the ability to copy our behavior up to 10 minutes after it’s happened. Up to this point, this mentally demanding ability was found in humans and apes only. A few years ago, scientists discovered that some dogs have the ability to imitate their owners but the study had never been linked to how dogs learn or tested after lengths of time had passed in between.
Adam Miklosi, a behavioral ethologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, wanted to find out more. He devised an experiment to teach the dogs exactly what he wanted done. He did so with a series of commands – first, the command “Do as I do” is given to instruct the dog to pay attention to the demonstration. Second, the command “Do it” is given to prompt the dog to imitate the action. The third command instructs the dog to wait before performing the imitation. This is a key because deferred imitation is a significant cognitive skill as it requires recalling an action after at least one minute has passed. The dogs in this study were able to recall familiar actions with wait times up to 10 minutes later.
The results of this study are beneficial to trainers, especially those working with guide and other working dogs. Dogs have a strong willingness to learn by watching and we should take advantage of their natural ability to socially learn from us.