Playing with humans improves learning success of dogs in the long term

(26.08.2020) Exciting and emotional situations, such as humans playing with a dog – improve the cognitive performance and memorability of what has previously been learned.

This was recently shown in a study conducted by Vetmeduni Vienna in collaboration with the University of Lincoln (UK). A follow-on study by Vetmeduni Vienna, which has been published 2 weeks ago in the renowned journal "Animals" shows, that this positive effect of the dog human play training intervention after learning a new task had a long lasting effect; it still affected the training performance of the dogs after one year.

Playing with humans improves learning success of dogs in the long term

The initial study has already shown that training success in Labrador retriever dogs improved significantly after a 30-minute playful activities session with a human. According to this study, playing with a human immediately after learning a new task has a better effect compared to a resting phase, when the learned task has to be remembered after 24 hours.

First proof of long-term training effect through dog human play

In this recently published follow-on study by Nadja Affenzeller from the University Clinic for Small Animals and Horses at Vetmeduni Vienna, the same dogs were tested again after a period of one year has passed. Among the factors analyzed were the age of the dogs, the effect of the trainer's identity, the training performance in the previous study, the heart rate and the number of trials and errors to meet the training criterion.

"The results show that all dogs re-learned the task. However, dogs from the dog-human play group required significantly fewer trials and made significantly fewer mistakes compared to the control group," said study leader Nadja Affenzeller.

According to the scientist, this is the first evidence that post-training activities can positively influence the memory of dogs even one year after initially learning the task.

Further studies urgently needed to optimize training performance

"However, when interpreting the overall results the small sample size must be taken into account. Follow-up studies are therefore urgently needed to further investigate how memory and training performance in dogs can be optimized," says Affenzeller. According to the present study, the play session between dogs and humans and structured long-term sleep phases seem to be the most promising interventions to improve training performance.

A better understanding of effective training interventions – but also negative effects – would be of great practical benefit for both the professional and private sector of dog training. Future studies should explore the potential synergistic effects of dog-human play sessions and periods of long lasting sleep on more complex training tasks.


The article "Dog-Human Play, but Not Resting Post-Learning Improve Re-Training Performance up to One Year after Initial Task Acquisition in Labrador Retriever Dogs: A Follow-On Study" by Nadja Affenzeller was published in Animals.

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