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Karen B. London
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Attention Changes With Age
Dogs and humans follow similar path
These dogs are attentive!

If you think that your dog has changed in his tendency to pay attention to you over time, you are probably right. A new study is the first to describe the developmental changes in dogs’ attention over their entire life.

In the study “Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans”, scientists studied 145 Border Collies from the ages of 6 months to almost 14 years old. Dogs were placed in 7 groups, reflecting these developmental periods: late puppyhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, late adulthood, senior, and geriatric.

The researchers concluded that dogs (at least of this breed) show predictable changes in attentiveness, which they define as the ability to choose to process some environmental stimuli over others, as they age. Their major findings were:

  • Dogs of all ages attend more to people with objects than to objects alone.
  • Older dogs are less interested in novel objects in the environment than younger dogs are.
  • Dogs between 3 and 6 years of age were fastest to return their attention to a person after finding food on the floor.
  • Adolescent dogs improve their performance at attention tasks more rapidly than other age groups. So, while these young dogs may not give their attention quickly to a person on the first trial, when rewarded for doing so, they get better after just a few repetitions.
  • The changes in attention over time seen in these dogs are similar to the patterns observed in humans, which means that dogs may provide good models for studying the phenomenon.

Have you noticed changes in your dog’s attention habits over time?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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