Dogs can learn effectively from a human demonstrator in detour tests as well as in different kinds of manipulative tasks. In this experiment we used a novel two-action device from which the target object (a ball) was obtained by tilting a tube either by pulling a rope attached to the end of the tube, or by directly pushing the end of the tube. Tube tilting was relatively easy for naïve companion dogs; therefore, the effect of the human demonstration aimed to alter or increase the dogs’ initial preference for tube pushing (according to the behaviour shown by naïve dogs in the absence of a human demonstrator). Our results have shown that subjects preferred the demonstrated action in the two-action test. After having witnessed the tube pushing demonstration, dogs performed significantly more tube pushing than the dogs in the rope pulling demonstration group. In contrast, dogs that observed the rope pulling demonstration, performed significantly more similar actions than the subjects of the other demonstration group. The ratio of rope pulling was significantly higher in the rope pulling demonstration group, than in the No Demo (control) group. The overall success of solving the task was also influenced by the social rank of the dog among its conspecific companions at home. Independently of the type of demonstration, dominant dogs solved the task significantly more often than the subordinate dogs did. There was no such difference in the No Demo group.
This experiment has shown that a simple two-action device that does not require excessive pre-training, can be suitable for testing social learning in dogs. However, effects of social rank should be taken into account when social learning in dogs is being studied and tested, because dominant and subordinate dogs perform differently after observing a demonstrator.