Working smarter not harder: oxytocin increases domestic dogs’ (Canis familiaris) accuracy, but not attempts, on an object choice task

Oliva, Jessica Lee, Mengoli, Manuel, Mendonça, Tiago, Cozzi, Alessandro, Pageat, Patrick, Chabaud, Camille, Teruel, Eva, Lafont-Lecuelle, Céline, and Bienboire-Frosini, Cécile (2019) Working smarter not harder: oxytocin increases domestic dogs’ (Canis familiaris) accuracy, but not attempts, on an object choice task. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. 2141.

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The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has been shown to enhance dogs’ ability to perform an object choice task (OCT) involving the use of human pointing cues, when delivered intranasally. This study aimed at further investigating whether OT enhances task performance by increasing choices made, or by increasing correctness of choices made, and to compare these treatment effects to dog appeasing pheromone (DAP), known to balance emotional activation in dogs. Hence, we compared OCT performance between three groups of dogs: (i) dogs administered OT and a sham collar, (ii) dogs administered a saline placebo and a DAP collar, and (iii) control dogs administered a saline placebo and a sham collar. All three groups consisted of a combination of male and female pet dogs and assistance-dogs-in-training currently living with a volunteer carer. The study also evaluated the effect of intranasal OT and/or DAP on plasma levels of OT, and prolactin; which has previously been linked with anxiety in dogs. The dogs’ emotional state was measured using the Emotional Disorders Evaluation in Dogs (EDED) scale. The owners’/carers’ degree of anxious- and avoidant-style attachment to their dogs was accessed using the Pet Attachment Questionnaire (PAQ). Interesting descriptive data appeared for both treatment groups. Particularly, in OT group, we obtained significant results demonstrating that intranasal OT enhances OCT performance in dogs compared to control, by increasing the percentage of correct choices, but not the number of choices, made. Results also support that the mode of action of intranasal OT is via direct access to the brain and not via the blood, since no elevation of plasma OT (or prolactin) levels were observed after intranasal administration in this study. Similarly, DAP application did not significantly alter OT or prolactin peripheral concentrations. Several differences were observed between fostered and pet dogs, namely: fostered dogs demonstrated higher levels of serum prolactin, made more choices on the OCT compared to pet dogs but were not more likely to be correct, and were fostered by carers with higher avoidant attachment scores than pet dog owners. These findings implicate consideration of potential carer and training consequences for assistance dogs.

Item ID: 65916
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1664-1078
Keywords: oxytocin, DAP, dog, attachment, object choice, pheromone, cognition, OCT
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Oliva, Mengoli, Mendonça, Cozzi, Pageat, Chabaud, Teruel, Lafont-Lecuelle and Bienboire-Frosini. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2021 03:54
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310301 Behavioural ecology @ 30%
52 PSYCHOLOGY > 5204 Cognitive and computational psychology > 520401 Cognition @ 10%
52 PSYCHOLOGY > 5204 Cognitive and computational psychology > 520403 Learning, motivation and emotion @ 60%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 100%
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