Puppies as young as eight weeks old have social learning skills that allow them to learn by observing both dogs and humans, according to a preliminary study published in Scientific Reports this week.
Claudia Fugazza and colleagues studied 48 eight-week-old puppies from a variety of different breeds to evaluate whether their ability to learn to open a puzzle box to receive a food reward inside the box varied when the demonstration was given by a human, their mother or an unfamiliar dog.
The authors found that the puppies learned to complete the task regardless of whether a dog or human demonstrated it. Like adult dogs, they retained their memory of the acquired information if tested again after a one-hour delay. Unexpectedly, the puppies were more likely to learn from unfamiliar dogs than from their mother. The authors suggest that this may be because puppies paid greater attention to the demonstration performed by the unfamiliar dog (looking at it for around 44 seconds) than their mother’s demonstration (which they watched for about 30 seconds).
Previous research has demonstrated social learning in older dogs; however, the authors of this study suggest that young puppies may have social learning skills similar to those of older dogs. Further studies, including dogs at different stages of development, could provide further insights into the mechanisms underlying social learning in dogs.