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Development of the dog executive function scale (DEFS) for adult dogs

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Version 2 2022-12-02, 05:47
Version 1 2022-06-30, 23:38
journal contribution
posted on 2022-12-02, 05:47 authored by Maike ForaitaMaike Foraita, Tiffani HowellTiffani Howell, Pauleen BennettPauleen Bennett
Executive functions (EFs) are cognitive processes that are used to effortfully self-regulate behaviour and might be important for dogs' success in working and pet roles. Currently, studies are assessing dogs' EF skills through often laborious cognitive measures, leading to small sample sizes and lacking measures of reliability. A complementary method is needed. The aim of this study was to develop a dog executive function scale (DEFS) for adult dogs. Focus groups were held with people working with dogs professionally to refine a pool of items describing dog behaviours related to EF. A survey was distributed online to a convenience sample of N = 714 owners of adult dogs. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis identified six distinguishable factors named behavioural flexibility, motor inhibition, attention towards owner, instruction following, delay inhibition and working memory. These factors appear similar to factors identified in human EF scales. Working dogs exhibit higher EF scores on the DEFS than non-working dogs. Dogs sourced from breeders exhibited higher DEFS scores than dogs sourced from shelters, and the amount of training received positively correlated with dogs' DEFS scores. The DEFS requires further validation with cognitive measures. The DEFS could then be used by researchers to complement assessment of dogs' EF skills through cognitive measures or assess dogs' EF skills in large samples.


Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and its Member Institutions. This research is supported by a Research Training Program (RTP) Stipend Scholarship and a Full Fee Research Scholarship (LTUFFRS) awarded to Maike Foraita by La Trobe University.


Publication Date



Animal Cognition






13p. (p. 1479-1491)





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