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The dog is like his master

dog © Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine

This form of social learning, which was previously considered to be an exclusive characteristic of human beings, means that causally irrelevant actions are also copied by people’s four-legged friend, as shown by researchers at the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine. Up until now over-imitation on the part of animals could not be proven, not even in the case of great apes. “Because in humans this peculiar form of imitation is strongly motivated by social factors, such as affiliation or conformity, we hypothesized that domesticated and enculturated dogs are more likely than apes are to copy such actions, especially if shown by their affiliated caregiver”, states cognition researcher Ludwig Huber of the Messerli Research Institute. Similar to children, learning by dogs and the imitation of their reference person seem to comprise profound social processes. However, the reason why over-imitation occurs has still not been clarified.

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