Development of a Spatial Discount Task to Measure Impulsive Choices in Dogs
Laboratorio di Etologia Applicata, Dipartimento di Biomedicina Comparata e Alimentazione, Università degli Studi di Padova. Viale dell’Università 16, 35020 Legnaro, Italy
Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Napoli Federico II, Via Cinthia, Edificio 7, 80126 Napoli, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 12 June 2019 / Revised: 8 July 2019 / Accepted: 13 July 2019 / Published: 23 July 2019
Impulsivity is believed to play a role in problematic behaviors in dogs. In this study, we developed a test to assess dogs’ tendency to make impulsive choices, that is their preference for smaller immediate reward instead of larger, but harder to obtain ones. Dogs were first trained that a bowl presented on a certain side always contained a large food amount, whereas the one presented on the opposite side (although at the same distance from the dog) contained less food. Then, the bowl with less food was progressively placed closer to the dog. As expected, dogs’ choices to feed from the bowl with less food increased as the distance of the latter decreased. Choices did not depend on factors that could interfere, such as dogs’ level of motivation for food, training experience, or learning ability. This indicates that the test is likely to be actually assessing impulsivity, not other traits. Also, female dogs were more likely to make impulsive choices than males, in accordance with what is known in humans and rodents, supporting the validity of the test. The test was completed in less than 1 h, making it a valid option to assess impulsivity in dogs in various contexts.