Age influences domestic dog cognitive performance independent of average breed lifespan

Marina M. Watowich, Evan L. MacLean, Brian Hare, Josep Call, Juliane Kaminski, Ádám Miklósi, Noah Snyder-Mackler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
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Across mammals, increased body size is positively associated with lifespan. However, within species, this relationship is inverted. This is well illustrated in dogs (Canis familiaris), where larger dogs exhibit accelerated life trajectories: growing faster and dying younger than smaller dogs. Similarly, some age-associated traits (e.g., growth rate and physiological pace of aging) exhibit accelerated trajectories in larger breeds. Yet, it is unknown whether cognitive performance also demonstrates an accelerated life course trajectory in larger dogs. Here, we measured cognitive development and aging in a cross-sectional study of over 4000 dogs from 66 breeds using nine memory and decision-making tasks performed by citizen scientists as part of the Dognition project. Specifically, we tested whether cognitive traits follow a compressed (accelerated) trajectory in larger dogs, or the same trajectory for all breeds, which would result in limited cognitive decline in larger breeds. We found that all breeds, regardless of size or lifespan, tended to follow the same quadratic trajectory of cognitive aging—with a period of cognitive development in early life and decline in later life. Taken together, our results suggest that cognitive performance follows similar age-related trajectories across dog breeds, despite remarkable variation in developmental rates and lifespan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-805
JournalAnimal Cognition
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Cognitive evolution
  • Cognitive aging
  • Breed differences
  • Citizen science
  • Executive function


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