24th January 2013, 12:16pm
To eat or not to eat - how dogs exert self control
How dogs exert self control Treats have long been used as motivators in dog training, but can dogs resist the temptation of an immediate reward in the hope of receiving a larger one later on?

This premise of delayed gratification has long been investigated in human psychology but animal behaviourists are now hoping to gain a greater insight into how dogs exert self discipline.

Stefanie Riemer, a visiting PhD student from Vienna, will be carrying out research in this area at Lincoln over the next three months.

Based at the University of Lincoln’s Riseholme campus, Stefanie needs a number of dogs to take part in the study.

Explaining the background to the research, Stefanie said: “My research is based on a doggy adaptation of the Stanford marshmallow experiment, which was conducted first by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1970s with pre-school children. A marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, he was promised two instead of one. The scientists analysed how long each child resisted the temptation and later studies confirmed that those who delayed gratification longer had higher attentiveness, a greater ability to deal with frustration and stress and greater academic success later in life. A number of studies have since then confirmed links between self control, attention and cognitive functioning in humans”.

“I am looking to do a similar kind of experiment with dogs. The University of Lincoln has already established a paradigm for testing dogs’ patience. A piece of equipment allows the animal to make a choice and receive a small reward, or wait longer and receive a larger reward. The delay gradually increases. The aim is to see if the same thought processes are put into play for both humans and dogs.”

Other tests will include fun problem-solving exercises where the dog has to figure out how to obtain treats from a toy.

All breeds of dog, aged one year and over, are welcome to take part in this study. Dogs need to be extremely food-motivated and enjoy working for rewards. Experience with clicker training would be an advantage but is not essential.

Around five appointments are needed. Sessions are flexible and can include evenings and weekends.

If you would like to find out more or take part contact Stefanie by e-mailing sriemer@lincoln.ac.uk or call 07442 757074.
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