Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 07 February 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00071

Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans

  • 1Clever Dog Lab, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University of Vienna and University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • 2Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • 3Royal Canin Research Center, Aimargues, France

Attention is pivotal to consciousness, perception, cognition, and working memory in all mammals, and therefore changes in attention over the lifespan are likely to influence development and aging of all of these functions. Due to their evolutionary and developmental history, the dog is being recognized as an important species for modeling human healthspan, aging and associated diseases. In this study, we investigated the normal lifespan development of attentiveness of pet dogs in naturalistic situations, and compared the resulting cross-sectional developmental trajectories with data from previous studies in humans. We tested a sample of 145 Border collies (6 months to 14 years) with humans and objects or food as attention attractors, in order to assess their attentional capture, sustained and selective attention, and sensorimotor abilities. Our results reveal differences in task relevance in sustained attentional performance when watching a human or a moving object, which may be explained by life-long learning processes involving such stimuli. During task switching we found that dogs’ selective attention and sensorimotor abilities showed differences between age groups, with performance peaking at middle age. Dogs’ sensorimotor abilities showed a quadratic distribution with age and were correlated with selective attention performance. Our results support the hypothesis that the development and senescence of sensorimotor and attentional control may be fundamentally interrelated. Additionally, attentional capture, sustained attention, and sensorimotor control developmental trajectories paralleled those found in humans. Given that the development of attention is similar across humans and dogs, we propose that the same regulatory mechanisms are likely to be present in both species. Finally, this cross-sectional study provides the first description of age group changes in attention over the lifespan of pet dogs.

Keywords: attention, lifespan, development, aging, attentional control, learning, clicker training, dog

Citation: Wallis LJ, Range F, Müller CA, Serisier S, Huber L and Virányi Z (2014) Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans. Front. Psychol. 5:71. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00071

Received: 23 September 2013; Accepted: 18 January 2014;
Published online: 07 February 2014.

Edited by:

Jeffrey R. Stevens, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, USA

Reviewed by:

Eduardo Mercado, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, USA
Paolo Mongillo, Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy

Copyright © 2014 Wallis, Range, Müller, Serisier, Huber and Virányi. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Lisa J. Wallis, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Veterinärplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria e-mail: lisa.wallis@vetmeduni.ac.at

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