Tool use in dingoes
This is the first scientifically reported case of tool use in canids. I was able to capture a captive dingo named Sterling at the Dingo Discovery Centre, use some pretty good tricks to solve problems. Watch the video to find out what he does to get to the food placed in a yellow parcel placed out of his reach.
I published these observations in a scientific journal. For the complete reference, see:
Smith, B., Appleby, R. & Litchfield, C. (2012). Spontaneous tool-use: an observation of a dingo (Canis dingo) using a table to access an out-of-reach food reward. Behavioural Processes, 89, 219-224.
Sterling didnt just stop at tables. When moved into his new and upgraded accomodation, he started to drag his kennel around and use it as a look out to keep an eye on all the other dingoes at the centre.
Did anyone call a locksmith?
Dingoes are notorious for their intelligent and are therefore difficult to keep in captive environments.
This short video (also described in the scientific paper alongside Sterling) shows a dingo named Teddy easily manipulating a latched gate so he could be with his mate Ayjay in the adjacent enclosure.
Do dingoes get the point?
As dogs have evolved alongside humans, they have gained an incredible skill to be able to understand many of our social gestures- such as pointing or looking at something. Wolves on the other hand, are not so good, having never really needed the skill.
I sought to determine whether dingoes were able to follow human social cues- and I found out they were pretty good at it. Here's some video of a couple of dingoes
Details of the experiment and results can have been published as:
Smith, B., & Litchfield, C. (2010). Dingoes (Canis dingo) can use human social cues to locate hidden food. Animal Cognition, 13, 367-376.
Dingoes being tested on the detour task
A great test of non-social intelligence or problem solving ability is the detour task. Simply place the animal on one side of a barrier, and something it wants on the other side, and see how long they take to get to it!
Most dogs find this task really difficult, however wild canids like dingoes (who spend much of their time chasing prey around obstacles) have no problem at all- just watch!
The results of this experiment can be found in the following publication:
Smith, B., & Litchfield, C. (2010). How well do dingoes (Canis dingo) perform on the detour task. Animal Behaviour, 80, 155-162.
Do dingoes look back for help when faced with a difficult problem?
In the early 2000's, scientists discovered that a big difference in the problem solving behaviour of dogs and wolves was that dogs have a tendency to look back to humans that are nearby for help, whereas wolves do not. It seems humans may have become part of the dogs problem solving strategies.
One way to test this is by setting up an easy problem (pull string to get food), but then making it impossible (so they can't pull the string). Then you sit back and watch what they do.
I wanted to see if dingoes would try to solve the problem on their own, or give up and look to the nearby handler. It turned out that the dingo doesnt seek help, but along the way we found lots of issues with the methodology.
Details of the experiment and discussion of the analysis can be found in the folowing publication:
Smith, B., & Litchfield, C. (2013). Looking back at ‘looking back’: Operationalizing referential gaze for dingoes in an unsolvable task. Animal Cognition, 16, 961-971.