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You can teach an old dog new tricks – but younger dogs learn faster

Aging affects the cognitive abilities of dogs, as a recent study by the Clever Dog Lab of the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna shows. A team of behavioural scientists studied dogs of different ages working on a specially designed touchscreen computer and discovered that although all dogs were capable of learning, older dogs learnt more slowly than younger ones. No age-related differences were found regarding long-term memory. The results were published in the journal Age.

The effect of aging on cognitive processes such as learning, memory and logical reasoning have so far been studied almost exclusively in people.

Using a series of touchscreen tests, Lisa Wallis and Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna have now studied these domains in pet dogs of varying ages. The study was conducted with 95 Border Collies ranging in age from five months to 13 years. The dogs regularly came to the Clever Dog Lab on the Vetmeduni Vienna campus accompanied by their owners to conduct the tests on a touch-sensitive monitor.

Dog using touch screen
The dogs were trained to touch symbols on a screen using their nose
Photo: Lisa Wallis/Vetmeduni Vienna