This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Characterizing Sustained Attention Task Performance by Dogs




Cox, Emma

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Psychological Sciences


A common finding in studies of sustained attention is that performance on these types of tasks is subject to fluctuations across the duration of the task. Several task-related factors have been consistently demonstrated to impact performance on these tasks, including: signal probability, event rate, background noise, and signal predictability. This phenomenon has been extensively studied in both humans and rats, but to date, there has been no systematic investigation into the sustained attention performance abilities of dogs. The present study evaluated canine sustained attention performance on an olfactory signal detection task. A baseline of detection performance for signal events of differing intensity levels was established, with dogs performing at overall high levels across all signal intensities. Dogs were then tested under conditions known to affect sustained attention task performance in humans and rats, including extended duration, reduced signal discriminability, reduced extrinsic motivation, and reduced signal probability. Overall, dogs’ performance was largely unaffected by any task manipulations, suggesting that dogs’ sustained attention abilities are resilient under the given testing parameters. However, this study is limited by small sample size and varying testing structures used across dogs, preventing any strong conclusions about dogs’ sustained attention abilities. The present study has conceptual significance, by providing an opportunity to compare sustained attention and signal detection performance across species, as well as the potential to advance knowledge in practical applications to the work of operational detection dogs.