Stimulus control of odorant concentration: Pilot study of generalization and discrimination of odor concentration in canines
DeChant, Mallory T.
Bunker, Paul C.
Hall, Nathaniel J.
Despite dogs’ widespread use as detection systems, little is known about how dogs generalize to variations of an odorant’s concentration. Further, it is unclear whether dogs can be trained to discriminate between similar concentration variations of an odorant. Four dogs were trained to an odorant (0.01 air dilution of isoamyl acetate) in an air-dilution olfactometer, and we assessed spontaneous generalization to a range of concentrations lower than the training stimulus (Generalization Test 1). Dogs generalized to odors within a 10-fold range of the training odorant. Next, we conducted discrimination training to suppress responses to concentrations lower than a concentration dogs showed initial responding towards in Generalization Test 1 (0.0025 air dilution). Dogs successfully discriminated between 0.0025 and 0.01, exceeding 90% accuracy. However, when a second generalization test was conducted (Generalization Test 2), responding at the 0.0025 concentration immediately recovered and was no different than in Generalization Test 1. Dogs were then tested in another generalization test (Compound Discrimination and Generalization) in which generalization probes were embedded within discrimination trials, and dogs showed suppression of responding to the 0.0025 concentration and lower concentrations in this preparation. These data suggest dogs show limited spontaneous generalization across odor concentration and that dogs can be trained to discriminate between similar concentrations of the same odorant. Stimulus control, however, may depend on the negative stimulus, suggesting olfactory concentration generalization may depend on relative stimulus control. These results highlight the importance of considering odor concentration as a dimension for generalization in canine olfactory research.