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Dogs With Patience May Be Better Problem Solvers, Study Shows

Feb 15, 2016 03:35 PM EST
Inhibitory control, or the ability to wait for a treat, may be a good indicator of how well your pooch can solve a problem.
(Photo : Flickr: Jlhopgood)

Your dog's ability to wait patiently for a treat may determine how well he or she can solve a problem, according to a new study from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. The key skill, researchers say, is inhibitory control or self-restraint. 

A group of 40 border collies were assessed in a variety of inhibitory control tasks, such as wait-for-treat, and cognitive measures, such as size constancy over a period of 18 months, according to a news release. Researchers found those that let emotion or impatience get in the way of self-control were far less successful in solving problems.

"It seems safe to say that inhibitory control has a genetic component, but is also subject to environmental influences," lead author Corsin Müller told Discovery News. "I would not expect that every dog can reach the 'perfect' level of inhibitory control."

However, when it comes to understanding how to solve a particular task, previous encounters have no bearing. Researchers confirmed this by dividing the dogs into three groups as puppies: One group received a set of toys that offered them the opportunity to learn about means-to-an-end connections; the second group received toys that lacked clear learning objectives; and the third group received basic balls, ropes or other rubber toys. It was thought that dogs given the means-to-an-end toys would have been able to apply their learned problem-solving skills to subsequent tasks, but that was not the case.

Instead, dogs appear to approach each task as a novel problem, suggesting inhibitory control is indeed the best predictor of individual performance in problem solving tasks. 

Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE

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