Observational spatial memory in wolves and dogs
September 28, 2023
Social learning is highly adaptive in transmitting essential information between individuals in many species. While several mechanisms have been observed, less is known about how much animals can remember. However, results on observational spatial memory among caching species, i.e. a form of social learning allowing individuals to remember and pilfer food caches made by others, suggest that this ability correlates with their social organization. Both wolves and their domesticated form, dogs, are social species known to make food caches, and previous studies have shown that they both can use observational spatial memory abilities to find hidden food. In order to test how much socially transmitted information wolves and dogs can remember, we tested both species in a task requiring them to find 4, 6 or 8 caches after they observed a human hiding food items, or after a control condition where they could not observe the hiding. We found that both wolves and dogs retrieved more caches and were more efficient for the first few caches if they observed the hiding than in the control condition, suggesting that they did not simply rely on scent to find the rewards. Interestingly, wolves outperformed dogs irrespective of whether the caching could be observed or not. We suggest that this result is due to a difference in motivation/persistence between wolves and dogs rather than observational spatial memory.
Author(s): Sebastian G. Vetter, Louise Rangheard, Lena Schaidl, Kurt Kotrschal, Friederike Range