Effect of age on discrimination learning, reversal learning, and cognitive bias in family dogs
Several studies on age-related cognitive decline in dogs involve laboratory dogs and prolonged training. We developed two spatial tasks that required a single 1-h session. We tested 107 medium-large sized dogs: “young” (N=41, aged 2.5–6.5 years) and “old” (N=66, aged 8–14.5 years). Our results indicated that, in a discrimination learning task and in a reversal learning task, young dogs learned significantly faster than the old dogs, indicating that these two tasks could successfully be used to investigate differences in spatial learning between young and old dogs. We also provide two novel findings. First, in the reversal learning, the dogs trained based on the location of stimuli learned faster than the dogs trained based on stimulus characteristics. Most old dogs did not learn the task within our cut-off of 50 trials. Training based on an object’s location is therefore more appropriate for reversal learning tasks. Second, the contrast between the response to the positive and negative stimuli was narrower in old dogs, compared to young dogs, during the reversal learning task, as well as the cognitive bias test. This measure favors comparability between tasks and between studies. Following the cognitive bias test, we could not find any indication of differences in the positive and negative expectations between young and old dogs. Taken together, these findings do not support the hypothesis that old dogs have more negative expectations than young dogs and the use of the cognitive bias test in older dogs requires further investigation.
KeywordsReversal learning Cognitive bias Dog Learning Memory Ageing
We would like to thank Stiegman B., Deés A., Hemző V., Böröczki R., Marosi S., for their help with data collection and coding, and the dog owners who took part in the study with their dogs. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 680040) and was supported by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for EK and by the Budapest Semester in Cognitive Science program (BSCS-US LLC, Kalamazoo, Michigan) and the Hungarian Academy of Cognitive Science for RSC.
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