Dog cognitive development: a longitudinal study across the first 2 years of life

Emily E. Bray, Margaret E. Gruen, Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan, Daniel J. Horschler, Kerinne M. Levy, Brenda S. Kennedy, Brian A. Hare, Evan L. MacLean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


While our understanding of adult dog cognition has grown considerably over the past 20 years, relatively little is known about the ontogeny of dog cognition. To assess the development and longitudinal stability of cognitive traits in dogs, we administered a battery of tasks to 160 candidate assistance dogs at 2 timepoints. The tasks were designed to measure diverse aspects of cognition, ranging from executive function (e.g., inhibitory control, reversal learning, memory) to sensory discrimination (e.g., vision, audition, olfaction) to social interaction with humans. Subjects first participated as 8–10-week-old puppies, and then were retested on the same tasks at ~ 21 months of age. With few exceptions, task performance improved with age, with the largest effects observed for measures of executive function and social gaze. Results also indicated that individual differences were both early emerging and enduring; for example, social attention to humans, use of human communicative signals, independent persistence at a problem, odor discrimination, and inhibitory control all exhibited moderate levels of rank-order stability between the two timepoints. Using multiple regression, we found that young adult performance on many cognitive tasks could be predicted from a set of cognitive measures collected in early development. Our findings contribute to knowledge about changes in dog cognition across early development as well as the origins and developmental stability of individual differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-328
Number of pages18
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Assistance dog
  • Behavior
  • Cognition
  • Development
  • Individual differences
  • Longitudinal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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