Study Source: Plos One
Researches in Austria looking at spatial observation in dogs and wolves discovered both will remember where food is stored but wolves are better at it for different reasons.
Dogs and wolves appear to remember where people hide food, suggesting they are capable of a form of social learning known as observational spatial memory, according to scientists in Austria.
In cognitive psychology and neuroscience, spatial memory is a form of memory responsible for the recording and recovery of information needed to plan a course to a location and to remember the location of an item within a certain space. A person’s spatial memory is required to navigate around a familiar city. A rat’s spatial memory is needed to learn the location of food at the end of a maze. In both humans and animals, spatial memories are summarized as a cognitive map.
Aside from humans, birds, aquatic animals like dolphins and sea lions and insects such as bees are known to possess varying degrees of observational spatial memory.
Previous research has suggested that wolves and dogs – who diverged from wolves around 40,000 years ago – may possess observational spatial memory but not much is known about their abilities.
Highlights of the study
For the study, published in the journal Plos One, researchers in Austria conducted experiments with nine timber wolves and eight mongrel dogs at the Wolf Science Center in Ernsbrunn, Austria.
Each animal was tested on the ability to find four, six, or eight hidden caches of food.
In some instances the dogs and wolves observed the human hiding the food, in others they had to locate the cache that was already hidden.
The first five food caches were found more quickly by both dogs and wolves when they saw the food being hidden, as compared to not seeing where the food was concealed.
This suggests that the animals did not just use scent in order to find the food, the researchers said, providing further support to the hypothesis that both wolves and dogs are capable of observational spatial memory.
The team also found that wolves outperformed the dogs in finding the caches – whether or not they saw the food being hidden.
The researchers believe this may be because of a stronger “persistency and food-related motivation” in wolves.
Commenting on the research, Dr Jacqueline Boyd, an animal scientist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of animal, rural and environmental sciences, who was not involved in the study, said said the work “adds additional knowledge to our understanding of how canids experience and manipulate the world around them”.
She said: “Anyone who lives with a dog will likely have experienced their dog apparently mimicking them or demonstrating a level of social learning through collaboration.
“Our dogs are also quite adept at ‘asking for help’ when experiencing a challenge – think of your dog ‘telling’ you their ball has got stuck under the bookcase and seeking your assistance to recover it!”
Dr Boyd said the findings suggest that for domestic dogs, observational spatial memory “is possibly a result of convergent evolution, where dogs and humans have evolved alongside each other for thousands of years and developed shared capabilities”.
She added: “Being able to find cached food stores will also be a potential survival advantage for wolves – if you can exploit the work of others and gain resources with minimal energetic output, then there is a distinct survival advantage there.
What does this mean to our dogs?
This type of research helps us understand how dogs perceive the world around them and in this case, proves that our dogs watch us with purpose when it comes to where food/treats are stored.