Sex and physiological state influence the rate of resource acquisition and monopolisation in urban free-ranging dogs, Canis familiaris

in Behaviour
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In animal populations, the constraints of energy and time can cause intraspecific variation in foraging behaviour. The proximate developmental mediators of such variation are often the mechanisms underlying perception and associative learning. Here, experience-dependent changes in foraging behaviour and their consequences were investigated in an urban population of free-ranging dogs, Canis familiaris by continually challenging them with the task of food extraction from specially crafted packets. Typically, males and pregnant/lactating (PL) females extracted food using the sophisticated ‘gap widening’ technique, whereas non-pregnant/non-lactating (NPNL) females, the relatively underdeveloped ‘rip opening’ technique. In contrast to most males and PL females (and a few NPNL females) that repeatedly used the gap widening technique and improved their performance in food extraction with experience, most NPNL females (and a few males and PL females) non-preferentially used the two extraction techniques and did not improve over successive trials. Furthermore, the ability of dogs to sophisticatedly extract food was positively related to their ability to improve their performance with experience. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that factors such as sex and physiological state can cause differences among individuals in the likelihood of learning new information and hence, in the rate of resource acquisition and monopolization.

Sex and physiological state influence the rate of resource acquisition and monopolisation in urban free-ranging dogs, Canis familiaris

in Behaviour



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    A schematic diagram describing the stepwise crafting of food packets used in the experiment (reproduced from Mangalam & Singh, in press), see text for further explanation.

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    Empty food packets collected after food extraction by the dogs. (A, B) A packet that underwent gap widening. (C, D) A packet that underwent rip opening. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    The gap widening technique resulted in faster food extraction compared to the rip opening technique. Vertical bars indicate SE. p<0.05.

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    Out of total subjects, the proportion of individuals that used the gap widening technique at least once in three attempts (‘gap wideners’) (both kinds of shaded portions together), was greater in males and PL females than in NPNL females that significantly more frequently failed in solving the task. The proportion of individuals that used the gap widening technique in all five improvement trials (‘learners’) also was greater in males and PL females than in NPNL females that used the two techniques non-preferentially and often failed in solving the task. p<0.05; ∗∗p<0.005.

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    Food extraction was faster in learners (mostly males and PL females (N=35)) than in non-learners (mostly NPNL females (N=10)). Among learners, latency in food extraction decreased from the first gap widening attempt to the first improvement trial. No such decrease in latency was observed among non-learners. Vertical bars indicate SE. ∗∗∗p<0.001.

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    Within learners, initial latency in using the gap widening technique was positively correlated with mean latency in food extraction in the improvement trials.


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