Dogs can learn, retain and replay actions taught by humans, a new study has found.
According to the study by Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, this provides the first evidence of dogs' cognitive ability to both encode and recall actions after a short delay.
Domestic dogs are particularly keen on relying on human communication cues. They learn by observing humans and are easily influenced by humans in learning situations. Living in human social groups may have favoured their ability to learn from humans, researchers said.
Researchers Claudia Fugazza and Adam Miklosi, looked at whether dogs possess the cognitive ability of deferred imitation.
Eight adult pet dogs were trained by their owners with the 'Do as I do' method and then made to wait for short intervals (5-30 seconds) before they were allowed to copy the observed human action, for example walk around a bucket or ring a bell.
The researchers observed whether the dogs were able to imitate human actions after delays ranging from 40 seconds to 10 minutes, during which time the dogs were distracted by being encouraged to take part in other activities.
The researchers were looking for evidence of the dogs' ability to encode and recall the demonstrated action after an interval.
The researchers found that dogs are able to reproduce familiar actions and novel actions after different delays; familiar actions after intervals as long as ten minutes; novel tasks after a delay of one minute.
This ability was seen in different conditions, even if they were distracted by different activities during the interval.
"The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that the dogs have a mental representation of the human demonstration," the authors concluded.
"In addition, the ability to imitate a novel action aftera delay without previous practice suggests the presence of a specific type of long-term memory in dogs.
"This would be so-called 'declarative memory,' which refers to memories which can be consciously recalled, such as facts or knowledge," they said.
The study was published in Springer's journal Animal Cognition.