Cognitive Experience and Its Effect on Age-Dependent Cognitive Decline in Beagle Dogs
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Test-sophisticated beagle dogs show marked age sensitivity in a size discrimination learning task, with old and senior dogs performing significantly more poorly than young dogs. By contrast, age differences in learning were not seen in dogs naïve with respect to neuropsychological test experience. These results indicate that old animals benefit less from prior cognitive experience than young animals, which is an example of an age-dependent loss in plasticity. This finding also suggests that behaviorally experienced animals are a more useful model of human cognitive aging than behaviorally naïve animals. We also looked at the effect of a program of behavioral enrichment in aged dogs. One year of enrichment did not lead to significant differences, but after 2 years the behaviorally enriched group performed significantly better than the control group. The effect after 2 years indicates that a prolonged program of cognitive enrichment can serve as an effective intervention in aged dogs. These findings demonstrate that cognitive abilities in aged animals can be modified by providing behavioral experience, indicating that cognitive abilities remain moderately plastic, even in very old animals.
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