Surprisingly, yes, a study suggests that dogs subconsciously imitate human body movements and behaviors.

Friederike Range, of the University of Vienna, led the experiment. Using 10 dogs of different breeds, Range’s team taught each dog to open a sliding door—first by pawing at the door, and then by pushing up or down with their head.

In the next phase of the experiment, each dog watched his owner open the sliding door by using his hand or his head. The dogs were then divided into two groups. The first group was given a treat for emulating their owners’ action, and the second group was rewarded for doing the opposite. Regardless of the opportunity for a food reward, each dog automatically imitated his owner’s method of opening the door.

This study might explain why some dogs are partial to activities such as skateboarding or surfing, and could make certain tricks (such as “shake hands”) easier to teach. Of course, when it comes to catching a Frisbee, it’s probably best to let your copy-dog learn on his own.

Originally published in AKC Family Dog.

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