Aged dogs exhibit a spectrum of cognitive abilities including a syndrome similar to Alzheimer's disease. A major impediment to research so far has been the lack of a quick and accurate test of visuospatial memory appropriate for community-based animals. We therefore report on the development and validation of the Canine Sand Maze. A 4.5-m-diameter circular pool was filled with a sand and powdered food reward mix to a depth of 10 cm. Dogs were given 4 habituation and 16 learning trials which alternated a food reward being half (control trials) or fully-buried (acquisition trials) in a fixed location. After a 90-min break, a probe trial was conducted. Cognitively normal, aged (> 8 years, n = 11) and young (1–4 years, n = 11), breed-matched dogs were compared. After correction for differences in control trials, average probe times were 2.97 and 10.81 s for young and aged dogs, respectively. In the probe trial, both groups spent significantly more time in the target quadrant but there was a trend for young dogs to cross a 1 m2 annulus zone around the buried reward more frequently (2.6 times) than aged dogs (1.5 times). Test–retest reliability in a subset of young dogs (n = 5) was high. On the basis of these findings, the Canine Sand Maze is presented as a quick, sensitive and nonaversive tool for assessing spatial learning and reference memory in dogs.
Salvin, H., McGreevy, P. Sachdev, P., Valenzuela, M., 2011. The Canine Sand Maze: A non-aversive spatial memory retention task sensitive to age-related cognitive decline in dogs. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. 95, 110-118. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2011.95-109