Osthaus, B., Lea, S. E. G., & Slater, A. M. (2005). Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) fail to show understanding of means-end connections in a string-pulling task. Animal Cognition, 8(1), 37-47.
Domestic dogs were tested in four experiments for their understanding of means-end connections. In each of the experiments, the dogs attempted to retrieve a food treat that could be seen behind a barrier and which was connected, via string, to a within-reach wooden block. In the experiments, either one or two strings were present, but the treat was attached only to one string. Successful retrieval of the treat required the animals to pull the appropriate string (either by pawing or by grasping the wooden block in their jaws) until the treat emerged from under the barrier. The results showed that the dogs were successful if the treat was in a perpendicular line to the barrier, i.e. straight ahead, but not when the string was at an angle: in the latter condition, the typical response was a proximity error in that the dogs pawed or mouthed at a location closest in line to the treat. When two strings that crossed were present, the dogs tended to pull on the wrong string. The combined results from the experiments show that, although dogs can learn to pull on a string to obtain food, they do not spontaneously understand means-end connections involving strings.