Adaptive spatial working memory assessments for aging pet dogs

Joshua Van Bourg, Rachel Gilchrist, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Assessments for spatial working memory (SWM) in pet dogs that can detect age-related cognitive deficits in a single session may aid in diagnosing canine dementia and may facilitate translational research on Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Adaptive testing procedures are widely used in single-session assessments for humans with diverse cognitive abilities. In this study, we designed and deployed two up-down staircase assessments for SWM in which 26 pet dogs were required to recall the location of a treat hidden behind one of two identical boxes following delays of variable length. In the first experiment, performance tended to decline with age but few dogs completed the test (n = 10). However, all of the dogs that participated in the second experiment (n = 24) completed the assessment and provided reliable evidence of learning and retaining the task. Delay length and age significantly predicted performance supporting the validity of this assessment. The relationships between age and performance were described by inverted U-shaped functions as both old and young dogs displayed deficits in weighted cumulative-scores and trial-by-trial performance. Thus, SWM in pet dogs may develop until midlife and decline thereafter. Exploratory analyses of non-mnemonic fixation strategies, sustained engagement, inhibitory control, and potential improvements for future SWM assessments which adopt this paradigm are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-531
Number of pages21
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Aging
  • Cognitive decline
  • Development
  • Dog
  • Spatial working memory
  • Staircase methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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