Cognitive Functions and Aging in the Dog: Acquisition of Nonspatial Visual Tasks

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Old, middle-aged, and young dogs were compared on discrimination and reversal learning and on acquisition of a delayed-nonmatching-to-sample (DNMS) test of recognition memory. DNMS acquisition was acquired more rapidly by young dogs. Reversal deficits were found between aged mixed-breed dogs and young beagles, but not between old and young beagles. Aged beagles also showed unexpected deficits in reward approach and object approach learning. Aged mixed-breed dogs did not show deficits in reward approach and object approach learning, but they learned the discrimination task more slowly than the age-matched beagles. A detailed analysis of response patterns indicated that once present, the development of side preferences contributed to deficits of old dogs in discrimination learning. In the discrimination reversal, old dogs were more persistent in responding to the previously rewarded stimulus object. Findings suggest that the dog, like other species, shows age-dependent deterioration in cognitive function, the extent of deterioration is a function of both task and previous experience, and at least part of the deterioration is a result of increased behavioral rigidity. Results also indicate that it is important to control for breed differences and previous experience.

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