Why do adult dogs (Canis familiaris) commit the A-not-B search error?

Zsófia Sümegi, Anna Kis, Ádám Miklósi, József Topál
Journal of Comparative Psychology 2014, 128 (1): 21-30
It has been recently reported that adult domestic dogs, like human infants, tend to commit perseverative search errors; that is, they select the previously rewarded empty location in Piagetian A-not-B search task because of the experimenter's ostensive communicative cues. There is, however, an ongoing debate over whether these findings reveal that dogs can use the human ostensive referential communication as a source of information or the phenomenon can be accounted for by "more simple" explanations like insufficient attention and learning based on local enhancement. In 2 experiments the authors systematically manipulated the type of human cueing (communicative or noncommunicative) adjacent to the A hiding place during both the A and B trials. Results highlight 3 important aspects of the dogs' A-not-B error: (a) search errors are influenced to a certain extent by dogs' motivation to retrieve the toy object; (b) human communicative and noncommunicative signals have different error-inducing effects; and (3) communicative signals presented at the A hiding place during the B trials but not during the A trials play a crucial role in inducing the A-not-B error and it can be induced even without demonstrating repeated hiding events at location A. These findings further confirm the notion that perseverative search error, at least partially, reflects a "ready-to-obey" attitude in the dog rather than insufficient attention and/or working memory.

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