Recently, researchers at Eckerd College finished a study that asked a very interesting question: are dogs creative?
According to Lauren Highfill, Ph.D —the study’s main author—previous research shows that many animals can actually create new behaviors. For example, when dolphin trainers use a specific ‘create’ cue, the dolphins get a reward for doing something new. For Elaina Franklin, a professional animal trainer and the former supervisor of animal training at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the question was whether dogs could replicate this behavior.
“Elaina reached out to me that she had taught her dog, Frankie, to do that same create behavior,” Highfill said. “She asked if that would be something we’d want to research.” Shortly afterward, the pair created a Facebook group and started reaching out to local dog trainers to see who wanted to participate.
The study was a team effort
Titled “The Creative Canine: Investigating the concept of creativity in dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) using citizen science”, the study was published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology. Notably, the study was partly funded with a grant from The Association of Professional Dog Trainers. With the grant, Highfill and Franklin supplied certified dog trainers with tripods, video cameras, and a small gift card for participating.
For the study, trainers videotaped four sessions where they trained their dogs to respond to the ‘create’ cue. Importantly, the criteria for the dog’s responses was that they hadn’t already performed the behavior. Not surprisingly, the first trials were mostly videos of confused dogs.
All dogs are uniquely creative
Over the four trials, though, researchers noted that all the dogs performed significantly more new behaviors, confirming their hypothesis. However, the study also admitted that certain factors, like how many behaviors the dogs already knew, affected the outcomes. Incredibly, researchers compared the dogs’ creative abilities to certain species of dolphins and even killer whales.
Overall, the results suggested that each dog showed a different capacity to create new behaviors. Considering that, it’s important to consider our four-legged friend’s creative abilities. Whether that means changing up your dog walk routine or even giving dogs a chance to paint, letting dogs be creative can only benefit their lives.