Smarter dogs find it easier to overcome their spatial bias, a new study has discovered.
Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary, found that dogs with higher cognitive abilities were better able to focus on the physical properties of an object rather than the spatial qualities that dogs tend to focus on.
Numerous previous studies have shown that dogs have a preference to respond to information as being about location rather than objects.
Ivaylo Iotchev, first author of the study, explained: “This is manifested, for example, in the way dogs and children react to gestures when we show them the position of an object. Very early on, children interpret the gesture as pointing to the object, while dogs take the pointing as a directional cue.”
To test whether the spatial bias was the result of dogs’ visual or cognitive abilities, the researchers conducted two behavioural tests involving 82 dogs.
In the first task, the dogs had to learn whether a treat was hidden under a plate positioned on the right or the left. In the other task, they had to learn whether the treat was beneath a round white plate or a square black one.
The researchers compared the results of these tests with the visual acuity and cognitive abilities of each dog. They found a correlation between dogs who had higher-scoring cognitive abilities and success at identifying the correct plate based on what it looked like.
Enikő Kubinyi, part of the research team, said: “We tested their memory, attention skills and perseverance. We found that dogs with better cognitive performance in the more difficult spatial bias task linked information to objects as easily as to places.”
Dr Iotchev added: “Spatial bias in dogs is not simply a sensory problem but also a mindset. We also found that 'smarter' dogs are resilient in difficult learning situations and can overcome their biases.”
The study, ‘Cognitive and sensory capacity each contribute to the canine spatial bias’, has been published in the journal Ethology.
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