Relational concept learning in domestic dogs: Performance on a two-choice size discrimination task generalises to novel stimuli Academic Article uri icon


  • One central issue in the study of animal cognition concerns conceptual behaviour, where an organism categorises objects, events, and relationships so as to transfer previously learned rules to novel contexts. In this study, we investigated whether or not dogs demonstrate conceptual behaviour in the form of simple relational class concept learning. A two-choice visual discrimination task was used to assess if dogs are capable of simple relational class concept learning by generalising the same rule (i.e. circle is larger or smaller than) to various novel shapes. Eight purebred Lagotto Romagnolos were included in the study. The results demonstrated that they were capable of generalising a previously learned size discrimination rule to novel stimuli; however, there were differences in dog's generalization capabilities across certain shapes. Considering their unique relationship with humans, and their immediacy in everyday life, a better understanding of conceptual behaviour and generalising abilities in domestic dogs may have implications for training and management methods, as well as contributing to comparative psychology and applied ethology.

publication date

  • 2017