Overimitation in Dogs: Is There a Link to the Quality of the Relationship with the Caregiver?
Clever Dog Lab, Comparative Cognition, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna, 1210 Vienna, Austria
Domestication Lab, Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, 1210 Vienna, Austria
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Márta Gácsi
Received: 17 December 2021
Revised: 25 January 2022
Accepted: 26 January 2022
Published: 29 January 2022
Humans, but no other primates, show overimitation: the copying of causally irrelevant or non-functional actions. Recent studies have provided evidence for overimitation in canines, but mainly when their human caregiver—not an unfamiliar person—is demonstrating the irrelevant action. Therefore, we hypothesized that dogs show overimitation as a result of affiliation. Here, we tested if the eagerness to overimitate is influenced by the relationship quality between dog and caregiver by measuring, on the one hand, their relationship and on the other hand, the overimitation tendency. Although our overall results were not significant, our data might suggest that, on average, the dogs who overimitated might also show more referential and affiliative behaviours towards the owner (like gazing, synchronization and greeting) than dogs who showed less or no copying of the irrelevant action. Possible reasons for these negative findings are discussed, together with the implications for dog owners.