Skill in Expert Dogs

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The motor control of novice participants is often cognitively demanding and susceptible to interference by other tasks. As people develop expertise, their motor control becomes less susceptible to interference from other tasks. Researchers propose a transition in human motor skill from active control to automaticity. This progression may also be the case with nonhuman animals. Differences in performance characteristics between expert, advanced, intermediate, and novice dogs competing in the sport of agility were investigated. There were statistically significant differences between dogs of varying competitive levels in speed, motor control, and signal detections suggestive of increasing motor control automaticity in highly skilled, or expert, dogs. The largest sequential motor control difference was between novice and intermediate dogs, d = .96, whereas the largest sequential signal detection difference was between advanced and expert dogs, d = .90. These findings have two significant implications for expertise researchers: first, the observed similarities between dogs and humans may enable dogs to be used as expert models; and second, expertise science and methods may be profitably employed in the future to create more proficient canine workers. © 2007 American Psychological Association.

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Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied