– A new study into the ability of dogs to learn when they are old has concluded that senior dogs can indeed learn new tricks – when they could be bothered, that is!
A long term study by Vienna’s University of Veterinary Medicine in Austria followed one hundred and forty five Border Collies throughout the course of their lives, conducting experiments on their ability to learn, pay attention, maintain interest and so on.
Over a range of experiments, it was found that younger dogs (between three and six years of age) learned faster, but older dogs learned too – just at a more sedate rate. Indeed whilst older dogs learned as well as younger dogs, they quickly lost interest in new items and activities designed to pique their interest – preferring those people, activities and items they were already familiar with. So it would appear old dogs can indeed learn new tricks – contrary to the popular saying – it’s just most times they couldn’t be bothered.
Sound familiar? The researchers thought so too, and believe studies on ageing dogs can provide useful insights into the process of ageing in people – particularly cognitive ageing and age-related brain disorders such as Alzheimers disease and other forms of Dementia.
However there were some limitations to the study the researchers should have thought about before spending years and lots of taxpayer dollars on their research:
. They set up a laboratory room to simulate a “natural” house environment the dogs would experience during their lives. Yet they picked a working breed to study, which spends the majority of its life outside and at work – not in the “unnatural” environment of the home.
. The experiments they used were not related to the way the breed was designed. For example they used juggling paint cans to draw the dogs’ attention, which is all very well, but hardly likely to maintain the attention that a moving livestock animal would. If anyone has seen a Border Collie “lock” onto a farm animal to work it, you will know that regardless of age they are quite adept at maintaining fierce concentration for long periods – something the #DailyDog doubts a jiggling paint can could mimic.
So as you can see, this study, whilst interesting, has a number of flaws to it that bring into question the veracity of its findings. Perhaps when designing the study, the researchers should have been more careful by selecting a range of breeds and studying them in their true “natural” environments, rather than just one breed, observed in a psuedo-natural environment.
Undoubtedly however there will be more experiments of this kind conducted in the years to come. The #pups4sale team hopes they will be run better than this one so we can have more confidence in their results. Having said that, it is nice to know we can expect our 13+ year old rescue Bull Mastiff X ACD X Bull Terrier “Ben” to still learn a thing or two – when he can be bothered of course!