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What Human Infants Learn From Growing Up With a Family Dog

Updated on September 17, 2013

The Infant Mind at Four Months

Researchers have studied how infants build categories in very early childhood. They have found that infants typically start to build categories around four months old. These categories are very simplistic and the infant needs many repetitive interactions to formulate their cognitive development.

Our Dog Titan with Our Daughter

My daughter at one years old, offering the dog his toy.
My daughter at one years old, offering the dog his toy.
A human infant at six months old can generally recognize this image as a "dog", even if they are pre-verbal.
A human infant at six months old can generally recognize this image as a "dog", even if they are pre-verbal.

Inhanced Mental Capacity at Six Months of Age

At six months old, human infants with dogs at home where able to recognize the general appearance of a dog. However, they could only recognize the dog image if the dog was right-side up, standing on all fours.

The infants were unable to fit this image with their previously acquired "dog" category.
The infants were unable to fit this image with their previously acquired "dog" category.

By introducing an up-side down dog image to the infants; the researchers discovered that if the image was flipped around - the dog's feet pointing up and the dog's back down, the infants could not associate the image with the “dog” category they previously formed. Probably, because they were not familiar with this dog pose in reality.


Oaks, L.M., Horst, J.S., Kovack-Lesh, K.A. & Perone, S. Learning and the infant mind. Woodword A. (Ed.). Needham, A. (Ed.). New York: NY: Oxford University Press. (2009).pp. 144-171 [Chapter]

How to Judge Object Recognition in Pre-Verbal Infants

Why Should I Trust This Study?

The infants recognition was judged by the amount of time they looked at an image. Infants would stare at the image for a shorter amount of time if they were more familiar with it, and they looked at other images longer if they were less familiar with it. Showing the infants an image of a cat produced the expected results that they stared longer at the cat image than at the dog image. This was consistent with the evidence that they had a dog at home that they interacted with daily, not a cat.

Teaching Children about Growing Up With A Dog

What if We Don't Have a Family Dog?

For parents of infants growing up without a family dog, there is no need for panic or for regret. Although infants growing up with a family dog learn dog categories earlier, cognitive development usually levels out by pre-school and early elementary as children without dogs at home learn from observing dogs from the surrounding environment.

What research can tell us is infant’s learning is context dependent. Therefore, repetitive, consistent, physical and observational experience leads to quicker learning and formation of categorization in early infancy. This process is aided by parental interest and encouragement.

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