Social Learning in Dogs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Citations (Scopus)


Social learning is considered one of the most adaptive ways to gain information about several aspects of survival, such as avoiding predators and poisonous plants, solving problems, and obtaining food. It requires at least two individuals, who traditionally are called the 'demonstrator' and 'observer'. This phenomenon usually is manifested in a given level of matching between the actions of the two, after the observer has witnessed the behaviour of the demonstrator. Dogs represent a special case among other highly social species because they normally live in mixed groups with humans, where, since the beginning of their domestication, they have been exposed to human activity as a source of information, and also because of the selective pressure from humans for being sensitive to this kind of input. Therefore, the investigation of social learning in dogs is concentrated not only on species-specific issues of this type of information acquisition, but also on those unique capacities of dogs that may prove the particular effect domestication has had on them and the ways they learn from others.This chapter enumerates those empirical studies, which hallmark probably the best of those leaps that scientists have taken trying to resolve many intriguing questions about how dogs can (and sometimes cannot) learn from the various contexts of socially presented behaviours. Among these, we see whether dogs are prone to contagious yawning in the presence of a yawning human; we examine several attempts for tackling imitation in dogs, such as experiments with two-action tests, the fascinating 'Do as I do' paradigm, and the interesting theory of 'rational imitation'. We also follow multiple stages of detour tests on dogs which proved that a task that is seemingly simple for man's best friend to solve probably can be learned in multiple ways if the proper demonstration is performed. Finally, this chapter lists a few studies in which the functional aspect of social learning is emphasised. Among these, we discuss whether dogs can extract information about the location of food after they have met with a successfully foraging conspecific, and we see also how the rank of a dog in the hierarchy at home can affect its performance in a social learning test. In conclusion, we state that dogs utilise the information provided by the behaviour of their human and dog companions equally well. Most probably they are capable of learning with the help of several mechanisms, adapting their focus of attention accordingly to the given context, nature of a problem, and difficulty of a task. For further investigation, we propose more effort be put on discovering and testing cases of social learning in dogs in natural circumstances, or at least introducing more naturally occurring phenomena into the laboratories.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Social Dog
Subtitle of host publicationBehavior and Cognition
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages45
ISBN (Print)9780124078185
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


  • Contagion
  • Demonstrator
  • Detour
  • Enhancement
  • Function
  • Imitation
  • Mechanism
  • Observer
  • Response facilitation
  • Social rank
  • Two-action test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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  • Cite this

    Pongrácz, P. (2014). Social Learning in Dogs. In The Social Dog: Behavior and Cognition (pp. 249-293). Elsevier Inc..