It has been proven that both dogs and wolves are capable of observational spatial memory

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It has been proven that both dogs and wolves are capable of observational spatial memory

In a study involving several wolves and dogs, both species of animals, were better at finding hidden food when they saw a person hiding it. This suggests that they remembered where the desired treat was and did not rely solely on smell to find it.

Many species communicate important information through social learning. This happens, for example, when one person learns by observing or interacting with another. Previous research has shown that wolves and dogs are capable of a form of social learning known as observational spatial memory. That is, a skill that includes the ability to remember and mentally represent the environment simply by observing it. In a practical sense, this means that a person can remember where another animal has hidden food, and steal it. However, scientists still have a lot to learn about such abilities and how they can differ among different species.

To understand this question, Sebastian Vetter from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and his colleagues conducted a study with nine forest wolves and eight purebred dogs living at the Wolf Science Center in Ernsbrunn, Austria. They tested the ability of each animal to find four, six or eight caches with food after a person had hidden them either in front of the subjects or without their knowledge.

The researchers found that both dogs and wolves searched for a greater number of the first five caches with food if they saw the treats being hidden. Moreover, they did it faster and covering a shorter distance. This suggests that animals did not simply use smell to find food. Thus, the hypothesis that both species are capable of observational spatial memory is confirmed.

Regardless of whether they saw hidden food or not, wolves outperformed dogs in searching for hiding places. The researchers suggest that this difference may be related not to differences in observational spatial memory, but to differences in other traits, such as persistence and motivation associated with food.

The authors add: "Although domestication, probably affected the willingness of dogs to adapt to humans, the results of the current study coincide with previous data suggesting that cognitive abilities between dogs and wolves are not significantly different.

The results of the study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.