How Does Your Dog’s Attention Change Over Time?

Photo: Angela Gaigg

Photo: Angela Gaigg

More than any other species, dogs have evolved to understand humans and to cope in our domestic environment. Researchers out of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna have been the first to study the evolution of a dog's attentiveness over the course of their lives, and to investigate to what extent these changes in attention mimic our own.

Dog lovers already know that dogs are highly trainable, which requires them to be attentive and able to concentrate on what we're asking of them. But as this research shows, the level of attentiveness that a dog possesses varies over the course of their lifetime. This is a concept that also applies to humans.

The researchers first tested how attentive dogs of varying ages were to a toy being suspended from the ceiling. All dogs showed some interest, but the older dogs lost interest more quickly than the younger ones.

Next, they tested how the dog responded to a familiar human pretending to paint a wall. All of the dogs watched the person longer than they watched the suspended toy in the first test. The researchers were able to gather that dogs are more "socially attentive" than non-socially attentive, meaning that they watched the person longer than they watched the object. In addition, the older dogs were less affected by the changes to their environment, and remained more calm than the younger dogs.

Throughout the various tests the researchers conducted, they noticed some interesting data. First, the dogs with the best motor abilities were middle aged. Younger and older dogs did not test as well. This peak in motor abilities in middle age is also found in humans.

Additionally, the researchers found that dogs go through a period where it is difficult for them to focus and pay attention, which occurs during adolescence, or about 1-2 years of age. As we continue to learn more about dogs' learning and attention abilities and disadvantages, trainers and dog owners will be able to better understand their dogs to make training more fun and easier for both the person and dog.

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