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Spatial cognition and perseveration by horses, donkeys and mules in a simple A-not-B detour task


We investigated perseveration and detour behaviour in 36 equids (Equus caballus, E. asinus, E. caballus × E. asinus) and compared these data to those of a previous study on domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). The animals were required to make a detour through a gap at one end of a straight barrier in order to reach a visible target. After one, two, three or four repeats (A trials), the gap was moved to the opposite end of the barrier (B trials). We recorded initial deviations from the correct solution path and the latency to crossing the barrier. In the A trials, mules crossed the barrier significantly faster than their parental species, the horses and donkeys. In the B trials, following the change of gap location, all species showed a reduction in performance. Both dogs and horses exhibited significant spatial perseveration, going initially to the previous gap location. Donkeys and mules, however, performed at chance level. Our results suggest that hybrid vigour in mules extends to spatial abilities.

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We would like to thank all the staff at Axnoller Farm in Dorset, Sussex Horse Rescue Trust and Albourne Equestrian Centre for their willingness to facilitate this project and for their help with the data collection.

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Correspondence to Britta Osthaus.

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Osthaus, B., Proops, L., Hocking, I. et al. Spatial cognition and perseveration by horses, donkeys and mules in a simple A-not-B detour task. Anim Cogn 16, 301–305 (2013).

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  • Equids
  • Donkeys
  • Horses
  • Mules
  • Dogs
  • Detour
  • Spatial reasoning
  • A-not-B
  • Perseveration