The Role of Life Experiences in Affecting Persistence in Dogs

By Claudia Bensimoun

First published in The United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA)



Image credit: USDAA

Study compares factors related to problem-solving and motivation.

A 2019 study by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, examines how a dog’s life experiences may impact his or her persistence, particularly related to problem-solving, an important skill for success in agility.

A dog’s problem-solving skills give an indication of its general cognitive ability and may also influence its level of fitness. Previous studies have revealed that a combination of numerous factors can affect a dog’s performance, including the following:

  • Innovation neophobia (fear of new things)
  • Behavioral flexibility
  • Persistence or task-directed motivation
  • Personality
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Individual life experiences

In past studies, pet dogs have outperformed wild dogs with problem-solving tasks. This is believed to stem from the pets’ experience with a more enriched and safer environment. Pet dogs would be more accustomed to interacting with populated environments and less frightened when faced with new things. Also, human interactions allow pet dogs to explore more opportunities that would enhance their problem-solving performance skills.

The Study and Conclusions

The present study compared three dog populations that had very diverse life experiences: free-ranging dogs in Morocco, mixed-breed pet dogs in Vienna, and captive pack-living dogs at the Wolf Science Center (WSC). Dogs were presented with a ball and/or a plastic bottle, both of which contained food that could not be accessed. Researchers observed how and for how long the dogs interacted with each object. All dogs were tested in environments that were familiar to them, where they would be relaxed and under no stress to perform. No other dogs or humans were present to distract them from the task at hand.


Image credit: Pixaby

In its conclusions, the study reported that “free-ranging dogs were less persistent than pet dogs and pack dogs living in enclosures. This is in contrast with the common thinking that pet dogs are inhibited to interact with objects and/or do not need to do it because they are used to receiving help from a human partner. Although further studies are necessary to deepen our understanding of the reason underlying these differences, we suggest that a possible explanation for this finding is the different human-mediated object interaction between groups.”

For more on this article, please visit USDAA.

Woofs & Wags!


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