Age factors into canine cognitive abilities

The dogs were trained to touch symbols on a screen using their noses.

Can you teach an old dog, new tricks? That depends.

Researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria (Vetmeduni Vienna) studied the effects of aging on canine cognitive processes. They learned that older dogs learn more slowly and exhibit lower cognitive flexibility but have improved logical reasoning.

The study was published on Jan. 4 in AGE, the official journal of the American Aging Association.

The study was conducted with 95 border collies ranging in age from 5 months to 13 years. 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 revealed differences in cognitive ability depending on the age of the dogs.

"Older dogs required more trials than younger ones before they were able to solve the task correctly,” said Lisa J. Wallis, one of the study authors. “The test also showed that older dogs are less flexible in their way of thinking than younger ones. As in people, older dogs find it more difficult to change old habits or what they have learned.”

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially regarding logical reasoning. In that test, the older dogs outperformed the younger ones.

Photo credit: Lisa Wallis/Vetmeduni Vienna

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