Vol 11, Issue 2, May 2024

Exploring Dogs' Capacity to Innovate Actions on Cue


Scagel, A., Hege, A. S., Mercado III, E. (2024). Exploring dogs’ capacity to innovate actions on cue. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 11(2), 167-197.  https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Creative animals can flexibly respond to novel circumstances, a capacity that is closely tied to cognitive complexity. We examined the capacity of four dogs to learn to innovate actions when instructed to do so using a “create” cue. An action performed in response to this cue was considered novel if the action had not yet been offered within the current training session and was not already associated with a specific cue. The dogs were able to self-select many novel actions, similarly to what has been observed in trained dolphins. Training animals to innovate actions on cue can help reveal aspects of the cognitive processes underlying action selection, cognitive control, and behavioral flexibility. Successful learning of the “create” cue may indicate that the dogs were able to monitor their recent actions and form an abstract concept of avoiding recently performed actions. Reinforcing dogs for spontaneity may increase the range of actions that they perform within the training context. We conclude that the dogs in this study were capable of learning to innovate actions in ways that are comparable to what has been shown in dolphins. Though it is unclear how other dogs would perform at this task, our results demonstrate it is possible for dogs to learn to innovate actions on cue.


Event memory, Creativity, Inventiveness, Originality