Executive Functions in Detection Dogs
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Researchers in the field of canine cognition have developed several tasks to study executive functions, like working memory and inhibitory control, in dogs. Findings from such tasks have provided new information regarding the evolution, welfare, and aging of man’s best friend as well as the relationship between cognition and suitability in specific roles (e.g., working dogs). However, it remains important to understand factors that produce the individual differences that are common to these tasks and clearly define the constructs that the tasks are measuring. In this dissertation, I explore executive functions in detection dogs. Chapter 2 evaluates dog working memory for odors using the delayed matching-to-sample task and raises questions regarding how task specific features, including stimulus modality, influence results. Chapter 3 explores the internal validity of the visible displacement task, commonly used to measure working memory in dogs, and suggests the use of a necessary control in future research. Finally, Chapter 4 follows a two-fold focus. First, the relationship between cognitive tasks to measure executive functions in dogs is assessed. Second, the ability of these tasks to predict detection dog suitability is evaluated. Together, the results stress the importance of considering the validity of tasks purported to measure executive functions in dogs and provides evidence of factors that can influence task performance. In addition, the findings represent a clear relationship between tasks used to measure executive function (namely working memory and inhibitory control) and aspects of detection dog suitability, suggesting their value as non-traditional evaluation measures. Combining this information with behavioral, genetic, and physiological data could provide a multifaceted approach to predicting detection dog success.