Cognitive Flexibility and Aging in Coyotes (Canis latrans)

Joshua Van Bourg, Julie K. Young, Raneem Alkhalifah, Stacey Brummer, Erik Johansson, Jacqueline Morton, Victoria Quintana, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Cognitive flexibility evolves in species that live in complex and dynamic social systems and habitats and may enable species to better cope with anthropogenic habitat modification. Aging may also impact the cognitive abilities of canids. Coyotes (Canis latrans) and domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) differ markedly in their social and trophic ecology but have both been highly successful in adapting to human-modified ecosystems. Aging dogs develop a form of dementia that mirrors Alzheimer’s disease in humans, but it is unknown whether similar cognitive deficits develop with age in coyotes and other wild canids. In this study, we modified a spatial serial reversal-learning test that was sensitive to cognitive aging in pet dogs to test cognitive flexibility in captive coyotes. We also performed a second experiment using a color discrimination task to test for flexible rule learning. A total of 19 of 20 coyotes demonstrated the ability to track shifts in spatial reward contingencies and learned to rapidly complete reversals by using a win-stay, lose-shift strategy. In addition, coyotes inhibited prepotent win-stay choices to acquire the color discrimination task. These findings suggest that behavioral flexibility may help coyotes to detect and respond appropriately to both rapid fluctuations and gradual changes in ecological conditions. Performance did not differ between coyotes and previously tested dogs, but similar to dogs, behavioral flexibility declined with age in adult coyotes. Thus, cognitive decline and flexibility may be conserved among canines pending additional studies on other Canis species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-67
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 24 2022


  • Canid
  • Dementia
  • Dog
  • Plasticity
  • Reversal learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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