Effect of odor preexposure on acquisition of an odor discrimination in dogs

Nathaniel J. Hall, David W. Smith, Clive Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In two experiments, we investigated the impact of odor preexposure treatments on the acquisition of an olfactory discrimination in dogs. In the first experiment, four groups of dogs were each given five days' odor-exposure treatment prior to discrimination training. Dogs in the exposure group were exposed to anise extract (S+) for 30 min daily. Dogs in the Pavlovian-relevant pairing group received six daily delayed-conditioning trials to the same S+. The Pavlovian-irrelevant pairing group received conditioning trials to almond extract (S'). Dogs in the control group received no pretreatment. All of the dogs were then trained to detect S+ from a background pine odor (an AX-vs.-X discrimination). The Pavlovian-relevant pairing group acquired the odor discrimination significantly faster than all of the other exposure and control groups, and the remaining groups acquired the discrimination at the same rate as the no-exposure control group. In a second experiment, we extended these results to a within-subjects design using an AX-versus-BX discrimination. Six dogs were simultaneously trained on two different odor discriminations, one discrimination in which the S+ was previously Pavlovian conditioned, and one discrimination in which the S+ was novel. All of the dogs learned the odor discrimination with the previously conditioned S+ faster than they learned the novel odor discrimination, replicating the results of Experiment 1, and demonstrating that familiarity in the form of Pavlovian conditioning enhances odordiscrimination training. The potential mechanisms of the facilitated transfer of a Pavlovian conditioned stimulus to discrimination training are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-152
Number of pages9
JournalLearning and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Canine
  • Classical conditioning
  • Dogs
  • Odor detection
  • Odor discrimination
  • Pavlovian conditioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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