Older dogs have stronger reasoning skills than younger pups, but the young'ins are faster learners and more flexible in their thinking. That was the conclusion behind new research out of the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna, which put pet dogs through a series of cognitive tests using touchscreens and imagery.
Researchers Lisa Wallis and Friederike Range examined the cognitive abilities of 95 border collies, ranging in age from five months to 13 years, in the areas of learning, logical reasoning and memory.
10 Oldest Dog Breeds: Photos
For learning tests, the dogs were shown side-by-side images on the touchscreen that were "good" (they get a treat) or "bad" (no treat and a time-out), shuffled in different combinations so that the animals had to learn which one scored them a snack.
The older dogs, it turned out, were slower learners than the younger collies, and the grizzled pets were also a bit stubborn in their thinking.
"Older dogs required more trials than younger ones before they were able to solve the task correctly," said Wallis in a release.
The older dogs also paralleled the human stereotype of a certain rigidity that comes to some with age.
"The test also showed that older dogs are less flexible in their way of thinking than younger ones," Wallis added. "As in people, older dogs find it more difficult to change old habits or what they have learned."
VIDEO: Why We Love Dogs More Than Humans
The older dogs fared a bit better vs. the young ones when it came to logical reasoning, however.
New pictures were shown alongside "bad" pictures re-used from the previous learning tests, and it was up to the dogs to "infer by exclusion" which picture was to be avoided.
In this task, the older dogs showed that logical reasoning improves with age.
"The older the dog, the better it performed, while younger dogs were unable to master this task," said Range.
But that praise for the older generation came with a caveat: "This is probably due to the fact that older dogs more stubbornly insist on what they have learned before and are less flexible than younger animals," Range observed.
Dogs Understand Human Smiles, Scowls
Finally, though, the playing field was leveled when it came to memory. The older collies did just as well as the young ones: The researchers found no age difference in the ability to remember six months later the pictures the dogs had seen during the touchscreen tests. Almost all of the collies, old or young, remembered the "good" pictures.
The scientists say their tests can serve as a baseline to help diagnose and treat cognition problems in pet dogs.
Their research has been published in the journal Age.