Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Attention changes in the course of a dog's life mirror those of humans

Date:
April 1, 2014
Source:
Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Summary:
Dogs are known to be 'Man's best friend'. No other pet has adjusted to human lifestyles as well as this four-legged animal. Scientists have been the first to investigate the evolution of dogs' attentiveness in the course of their lives and to what extent they resemble humans in this regard. The outcome: dogs' attentional and sensorimotor control developmental trajectories are very similar to those found in humans.

Boarder collies are particularly known for their trainability.
Credit: Angela Gaigg

Dogs are known as 'Man's best friend'. No other pet has adjusted to human's lifestyle as well as this four-legged animal. Scientists at the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna, have been the first to investigate the evolution of dogs' attentiveness in the course of their lives and to what extent they resemble humans in this regard. The outcome: dogs' attentional and sensorimotor control developmental trajectories are very similar to those found in humans. The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Dogs are individual personalities, possess awareness, and are particularly known for their learning capabilities, or trainability. To learn successfully, they must display a sufficient quantity of attention and concentration. However, the attentiveness of dogs' changes in the course of their lives, as it does in humans. The lead author Lisa Wallis and her colleagues investigated 145 Border Collies aged 6 months to 14 years in the Clever Dog Lab at the Vetmeduni Vienna and determined, for the first time, how attentiveness changes in the entire course of a dog's life using a cross-sectional study design.

Humans are more interesting for dogs than objects

To determine how rapidly dogs of various age groups pay attention to objects or humans, the scientists performed two tests. In the first situation the dogs were confronted with a child's toy suspended suddenly from the ceiling. The scientists measured how rapidly each dog reacted to this occurrence and how quickly the dogs became accustomed to it. Initially all dogs reacted with similar speed to the stimulus, but older dogs lost interest in the toy more rapidly than younger ones did.

In the second test situation, a person known to the dog entered the room and pretended to paint the wall. All dogs reacted by watching the person and the paint roller in the person's hands for a longer duration than the toy hanging from the ceiling.

Wallis' conclusion: "So-called social attentiveness was more pronounced in all dogs than "non-social" attentiveness. The dogs generally tended to react by watching the person with the object for longer than an object on its own. We found that older dogs -- like older human beings -- demonstrated a certain calmness. They were less affected by new items in the environment and thus showed less interest than younger dogs."

Selective attention is highest in mid-adulthood

In a further test the scientists investigated so-called selective attention. The dogs participated in an alternating attention task, where they had to perform two tasks consecutively. First, they needed to find a food reward thrown onto the floor by the experimenter, then after eating the food, the experimenter waited for the dog to establish eye contact with her. These tasks were repeated for a further twenty trials. The establishment of eye contact was marked by a clicking sound produced by a "clicker" and small pieces of hot dog were used as a reward. The time spans to find the food and look up into the face were measured. With respect to both time spans, middle-aged dogs (3 to 6 years) reacted most rapidly.

Under these test conditions, sensorimotor abilities were highest among dogs of middle age. Younger dogs fared more poorly probably because of their general lack of experience. Motor abilities in dogs as in humans deteriorate with age. Humans between the age of 20 and 39 years experience a similar peak in sensorimotor abilities," says Wallis.

Adolescent dogs have the steepest learning curve

Dogs also go through a difficult phase during adolescence (1-2 years) which affects their ability to pay attention. This phase of hormonal change may be compared to puberty in humans. Therefore, young dogs occasionally reacted with some delay to the clicker test. However, Wallis found that adolescent dogs improved their performance more rapidly than other age groups after several repetitions of the clicker test. In other words, the learning curve was found to be steepest in puberty. "Thus, dogs in puberty have great potential for learning and therefore trainability" says Wallis.

Dogs as a model for ADHD and Alzheimer's disease

As the development of attentiveness in the course of a dog's life is similar to human development in many respects, dogs make appropriate animal models for various human psychological diseases. For instance, the course of diseases like ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) or Alzheimer's can be studied by observing the behavior of dogs. In her current project Wallis is investigating the effects of diet on cognition in older dogs together with her colleague Durga Chapagain. The scientists are still looking for dog owners who would like to participate in a long-term study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lisa J. Wallis, Friederike Range, Corsin A. Müller, Samuel Serisier, Ludwig Huber, Virányi Zsó. Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans. Frontiers in Psychology, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00071

Cite This Page:

Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. "Attention changes in the course of a dog's life mirror those of humans." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140401102245.htm>.
Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. (2014, April 1). Attention changes in the course of a dog's life mirror those of humans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140401102245.htm
Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. "Attention changes in the course of a dog's life mirror those of humans." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140401102245.htm (accessed September 15, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, September 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) — A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — New research has shown that the Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur, might have been just as well suited for life in the water as on land. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins