Social learning of goal-directed actions in dogs (<em>Canis familiaris</em>): Imitation or emulation?

A goal-directed action is composed of two main elements on which the observer may focus its attention: the movement performed (i.e., the action) and the outcome (i.e., the goal). In a social learning situation, consequently, the observer may imitate the action of the model or emulate the result of its action. In humans and primates, the tendency to selectively engage in any of these two processes is considered to be dependent upon the availability and saliency of information about the goal, implying the capacity to recognize the goals of others’ actions. Dogs are skillful in learning socially from humans, and, when trained with the Do as I Do method, they imitate human actions. Here, we tested trained dogs for engaging in imitation or emulation based on information about the goal. We found that dogs observing the demonstration of an object-related action in the absence of a clear goal tended to solve the task by matching the body movement of the human demonstrator. In contrast, when they could observe the exact same movement, but the goal was apparent, they attempted to solve the task by their own means, that is, by emulation, instead of imitating the demonstrated action. These results provide experimental evidence for dogs being able to recognize the goals of others and adjust their behavior accordingly, relying flexibly on imitation or emulation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)