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Acquisition of a visual discrimination and reversal learning task by Labrador retrievers


Optimal cognitive ability is likely important for military working dogs (MWD) trained to detect explosives. An assessment of a dog’s ability to rapidly learn discriminations might be useful in the MWD selection process. In this study, visual discrimination and reversal tasks were used to assess cognitive performance in Labrador retrievers selected for an explosives detection program using a modified version of the Toronto General Testing Apparatus (TGTA), a system developed for assessing performance in a battery of neuropsychological tests in canines. The results of the current study revealed that, as previously found with beagles tested using the TGTA, Labrador retrievers (N = 16) readily acquired both tasks and learned the discrimination task significantly faster than the reversal task. The present study confirmed that the modified TGTA system is suitable for cognitive evaluations in Labrador retriever MWDs and can be used to further explore effects of sex, phenotype, age, and other factors in relation to canine cognition and learning, and may provide an additional screening tool for MWD selection.

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This work was funded by a contract to K2 Solutions, Inc. from the United States Office of Naval Research.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

This research complies with the current laws of the United States of America and was reviewed and approved by the NCSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and the DoD US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) Animal Care and Use Review Office (ACURO). NCSU research animal facilities are inspected semiannually by the NCSU IACUC, and the CVM is accredited by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC, International).

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Correspondence to Lucia Lazarowski.

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Lazarowski, L., Foster, M.L., Gruen, M.E. et al. Acquisition of a visual discrimination and reversal learning task by Labrador retrievers. Anim Cogn 17, 787–792 (2014).

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  • Dog
  • Canine
  • Cognition
  • Visual discrimination