Older dogs have better logical reasoning: Study

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London | Published: February 3, 2016 6:36:58 PM

Older dogs may be slower at learning new tricks, but they are better than younger canines at making logical inferences, a new study has found.

dogsOlder dogs may be slower at learning new tricks, but they are better than younger canines at making logical inferences, a new study has found. (Reuters)

Older dogs may be slower at learning new tricks, but they are better than younger canines at making logical inferences, a new study has found.

Using a series of touchscreen tests, researchers at University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, studied the effect of ageing on cognitive processes such as learning, memory and logical reasoning in pet dogs of varying ages.

The study was conducted with 95 Border Collies ranging in age from five months to 13 years. The dogs were made to take the tests on a touch-sensitive monitor.

“Border Collies have a reputation for being fast learners,” said Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

“In recent years they have become a popular breed of pet dog, probably because they are so easy to train. This is why we had access to enough test animals from this breed,” said Range.

The dogs were divided into five age groups and tested in four tasks. These were designed to test three cognitive abilities – learning, logical reasoning and memory.

The tests showed differences in cognitive ability depending on the age of the dogs. The first part required the animals to learn to correctly select four from a total of eight abstract pictures on a touchscreen.

The dogs were shown two pictures on the screen at a time. One picture had a positive association – the dogs were rewarded with a food treat for touching this picture – while the second picture had a negative association – touching this picture did not result in a treat but in a time-out.

The four “positive” pictures were presented in different combinations with the “negative” pictures.

“Older dogs required more trials than younger ones before they were able to solve the task correctly. The test also showed that older dogs are less flexible in their way of thinking than younger ones,” said Lisa Wallis of the Messerli Research Institute.

“As in people, older dogs find it more difficult to change old habits or what they have learned,” Wallis aid.

After the Border Collies reached a learning criterion they were again shown two pictures on the touchscreen.

This time, one of the pictures was new for the animals. The second one was familiar from the previous test where it had a negative association.

The dogs had to identify it as the “wrong” one. The novel picture would therefore be the “correct” one. Hence, the dogs had to choose through inference by exclusion.

“The older the dog, the better it performed, while younger dogs were unable to master this task. This is probably due to the fact that older dogs more stubbornly insist on what they have learned before and are less flexible than younger animals,” said Range.

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