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July 26, 2013

Your dog is a copycat

(Continued)

But Miklosi didn't fully accept this; he thought that the experiment needed to be adjusted by teaching the dogs more explicitly. There are two basic commands the dogs must learn: "Do as I do," which means they need to pay attention to what is being demonstrated. The second command, "Do it," requires the dog to imitate what they've seen. What was missing was also a command that the dog needed to wait before performing the imitation. An Italian dog trainer and graduate student at Eötvös Lorand, Claudia Fugazza, agreed and figured out a new method. "We wanted to see if dogs can do 'deferred imitation,' " Fugazza explains. "So, they needed to learn that they also had to wait." Deferred imitation is considered a sophisticated cognitive skill, because it requires an individual to recall an action after a delay of 1 minute or more-something that is possible only if the individual has retained a mental representation of the action.

Fugazza and Miklosi worked with eight adult pet dogs that ranged in age from 2 to 10 years old and their owners. The canines were all females of various breeds-border collies, a Yorkshire terrier, a Shetland sheepdog, a Czechoslovakian wolfdog, and one mixed breed. The owners trained their dogs using the "Do as I do" method. For instance, an owner would tell her dog to "Stay," and then command, "Do as I do," whereupon the owner might walk around a traffic cone, or put her head in a bucket placed on the ground, or ring a bell suspended from a bar. After returning to her dog, the owner would wait 5 seconds, and then command, "Do it!" The dog was expected to copy her owner's behavior.

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