Learning & Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 513–521 | Cite as

Incidental spatial memory in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris)

  • Christina M. Sluka
  • Kathleen Stanko
  • Alexander Campbell
  • Johanel Cáceres
  • Danielle Panoz-Brown
  • Aidan Wheeler
  • Jordan Bradley
  • Colin AllenEmail author


We built upon previous work by Fujita et al. (2012, Animal Cognition, 15(6), 1055–1063) to create an experiment that investigated the presence of incidental memory for the spatial location of uneaten food in the domestic dog. Here, we dissociated potentially incidental spatial memory from the incidental memory for the characteristics of objects, in this case, food bowls. Eighteen household domestic dogs of various breeds and age were presented with four bowls. Each bowl contained either a novel object, treats the dog could consume, treats it could not consume, or it was left empty. Following a delay, the dogs returned to the laboratory and were presented with empty bowls in the same spatial orientation as the initial exposure and could move freely between bowls. This experiment required no previous training outside of basic obedience and so avoids the possibility that performance on the test was a conditioned response. We hypothesized that domestic dogs would be able to remember the location of uneaten food when presented with an unexpected memory test. We found that dogs in this study showed no evidence that they encoded spatial location in the absence of other cues that could be used to distinguish food bowls at specific locations. This suggests that dogs in previous experiments were more dependent on incidentally encoding the “what” and “in what” of this task than the “where,” in the absence of features making each location distinct.


memory episodic memory spatial learning dog 



Permission for the use and publication of C-BARQ data provided by James Serpell and the University of Pennsylvania. All procedures followed national guidelines and were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Indiana University, Bloomington, under protocol 16-031. This project was made possible by support from the Science, Technology, and Research Scholars Program and the Cox Research Scholars Program of Indiana University, Bloomington, to C.M.S. We are grateful to all the pet owners who volunteered their dogs for this study.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (XLSX 10 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyIndiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecosystem Science and ManagementPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Cognitive Science ProgramIndiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA
  5. 5.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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