Working dogs transfer different tasks in reciprocal cooperation

Gfrerer, Nastassja; Taborsky, Michael (2018). Working dogs transfer different tasks in reciprocal cooperation. Biology Letters, 14(2) The Royal Society 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0460

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Direct reciprocity can establish stable cooperation among unrelated individuals. It is a common assumption of direct reciprocity models that agents exchange like with like, but this is not necessarily true for natural interactions. It is yet unclear whether animals apply direct reciprocity rules when successive altruistic help involves different tasks. Here, we tested whether working dogs transfer help from one to another cooperative task in an iterated prisoner's dilemma paradigm. In our experiment, individual dogs received help to obtain food from a conspecific, which involved a specific task. Subsequently, the focal subject could return received favour by using a different task. Working dogs transferred the cooperative experience received through one task by applying an alternative task when they helped a previously cooperative partner. By contrast, they refrained from helping previously defecting partners. This suggests that dogs realize the cooperative act of a conspecific, which changes their propensity to provide help to that partner by different means. The ability of animals to transfer different tasks when helping a social partner by satisfying the criteria of direct reciprocity might explain the frequent occurrence of reciprocal cooperation in nature.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Behavioural Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Gfrerer, Nastassja and Taborsky, Michael


500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




The Royal Society




Joachim Gerhard Frommen

Date Deposited:

21 Mar 2019 16:36

Last Modified:

25 Oct 2019 15:20

Publisher DOI:


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