Strategies used by pet dogs for solving olfaction-based problems at various distances

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15 Citations (Scopus)


The olfactory acuity of domestic dogs has been well established through numerous studies on trained canines, however whether untrained dogs spontaneously utilize this ability for problem solving is less clear. In the present paper we report two studies that examine what strategies family dogs use in two types of olfaction-based problems as well as their success at various distances. In Study 1, thirty dogs were tasked with distinguishing a target, either their covered owner (Exp 1) or baited food (Exp 2), from three visually identical choices at distances of 0m (touching distance), 1m, and 3m. There were nine consecutive trials for each target. We found that in Exp 1 the dogs successfully chose their owners over strangers at 0m and 1m, but not at 3m, where they used a win-stay strategy instead. In Exp 2 the dogs were only successful in choosing the baited pot at 0m. They used the win-stay strategy at 1m, but chose randomly at 3m. In Study 2, a different group of dogs was tested with their owners (Exp 1) and baited food (Exp 2) at just the 3m distance with two possible targets in 10-10 trials. In Exp 1 the dogs' overall performance was at chance level; however, when analyzed by trial, we noticed that despite tending to find their owners on the first trial, they generally switched to a win-stay strategy in subsequent trials, only to return to correctly choosing their owners based on olfaction in the later trials. In Exp 2, the dogs chose randomly throughout. We also found that dogs who relied on visual information in the warm-up trials were less successful in the olfaction-based test. Our results suggest that despite their ability to successfully collect information through olfaction, family dogs often prioritize other strategies to solve basic choice tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0131610
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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