Cognitive development of detection dogs
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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The question of the extent to which cognitive capabilities predict future outcomes has been long pursued across several species. Also of interest are the evolutionary implications of the comparative study of cognitive abilities. The cognitive skills of dogs have been extensively assessed, but have been limited to domesticated and encultured populations such as pet dogs. The resulting literature overlooks other important populations and also has largely neglected to investigate developmental effects, which are critical to understanding the evolutionary and ontogenetic origins of canine cognition. In this dissertation, I explore the cognitive development and its relationship to future outcomes in a group of candidate detector dogs. Chapters 2 and 3 evaluate the performance of dogs on two commonly used tasks of canine social cognition, expanding to assess the application of such measures to detection dog performance and selection. Chapter 2 investigates alternative uses of the ‘Unsolvable Task’ for quantifying traditionally subjective measures of working dog behavioral characteristics, as well as evaluating the developmental trajectory of behaviors measured in the task. Chapter 3 examines detection dogs’ bias when presented with conflicting social and olfactory cues using the object-choice task. Chapters 4 and 5 explores non-social cognition in detection dogs, assessing inhibitory control (Chapter 4) and physical problem-solving (Chapter 5). Taken together, dogs showed developmental increases in social cognition and problem-solving skills, with variation in performance predictive of detection dog outcomes. These findings provide insights into the developmental and phylogenetic origins of canine cognition, extending findings to a new population of canines with important practical implications.