Cognitive Aging in Dogs: Behavioral and Physiological Perspectives


In recent years, the study of cognitive aging in dogs has gained significant attention, with multiple research efforts focusing on both behavioral and physiological aspects [1-8]. This interest is driven by the growing recognition of the similarities between aging in dogs and humans, particularly the development of dementia-like symptoms in older dogs [9, 10]. These parallels have positioned dogs as a valuable translational model for understanding human cognitive aging, especially given that many model organisms do not naturally exhibit such aging syndromes.

Studies have shown that, like in humans, aging dogs experience a decline in various cognitive functions, such as attention, trainability, memory, adaptability to new rules, and responsiveness to commands [5-8, 11-15]. This decline highlights the importance of comprehensive research in understanding the cognitive aging process, not only to improve the quality of life for aging dogs but also to provide insights into human cognitive aging.

Research Gaps in Canine Cognitive Aging

Despite the growing body of research, certain aspects of cognitive aging in dogs remain underexplored. Notably, the complexity of age-related influences on different cognitive measures and the impact of individual and environmental factors on cognitive aging are areas that require further investigation. Traditional studies have often examined cognitive aging in dogs through isolated tasks, potentially overlooking the interconnectedness of cognitive functions and the multifaceted nature of aging effects [8, 16, 17].

The Concept of the “Positive Manifold” in Cognitive Tasks

The idea of a “positive manifold” — where success in one cognitive task correlates with success in others — has been established in human cognitive research [18]. This correlation suggests a hierarchical structure of cognitive abilities, topped by a general cognitive factor, or “g factor,” which influences overall cognitive performance [19-22]. The question arises whether a similar hierarchical structure and general cognitive factor exist in dogs, which would imply a common influence on age-related cognitive decline across various tasks.

The Need for a Comprehensive Cognitive Model in Dogs

Investigating whether dogs possess higher-order cognitive domains that affect multiple specific task performances is crucial. Previous studies, often comparative and focusing on individual differences, have not conclusively determined the structure of cognitive abilities in dogs [25-32]. Early research provided hints of a positive manifold in canine cognition, but further statistical analysis and exploration of higher-order cognitive factors have been limited [33-38].

Methodological Challenges and the Role of Confirmatory Factor Analysis

The methodology in previous studies, primarily relying on exploratory factor analysis (EFA), has faced criticism for not adequately capturing the cognitive structure in dogs. Issues such as factor extraction methods, task reliability, and the use of EFA as a causal inference tool have been highlighted [21, 38-42]. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) has been suggested as a more suitable approach for validating cognitive structures and understanding the causal relationships in cognitive performance [43, 44].

Towards a Hierarchical Model of Canine Cognition

Arden and Adams [44] provided preliminary evidence for a hierarchical cognitive structure in dogs, including a potential general cognitive factor. However, the scope of their study was limited, necessitating further research to comprehensively test the cognitive structure across a broader array of tasks and within diverse dog populations.

Objectives of the Current Study

Our study aims to address these methodological gaps by analyzing the correlational structure underlying individual differences in dog cognition. This approach will help to extract higher-order cognitive factors and understand the influence of individual and environmental characteristics on the effects of age on cognitive performance. By employing both cross-sectional and longitudinal research methods, we aim to provide a more nuanced understanding of the aging trajectory in canine cognition and the factors influencing this process.

Investigating Individual and Environmental Influences on Canine Cognitive Aging

The Role of Individual and Environmental Factors

The second aim of our study is to explore how individual and environmental factors affect cognitive aging in dogs. In humans, factors like physical and mental activity, education, IQ, sex, age, ethnicity, and geographic location play significant roles in the aging process and the onset of dementia [49-53]. Given the similarities between human and canine aging processes, it is plausible that comparable factors influence cognitive aging in dogs.

Methodological Approaches to Studying Aging in Dogs

Our study utilizes both cross-sectional and longitudinal research methods to examine cognitive aging in dogs. The cross-sectional approach allows for the analysis of aging dynamics at the population level, while the longitudinal method provides insights into individual aging trajectories and the factors affecting them [55]. By combining these methods, we aim to offer a comprehensive view of cognitive aging in dogs, highlighting the importance of individual and environmental factors in shaping cognitive decline.


The study of cognitive aging in dogs offers valuable insights into the aging process in both canines and humans. By addressing the gaps in previous research and employing robust methodological approaches, we aim to deepen our understanding of the cognitive aging process, the interconnectedness of cognitive functions, and the influence of individual and environmental factors on cognitive performance. This research not only contributes to veterinary science and the care of aging dogs but also enhances our understanding of cognitive aging in humans, potentially informing interventions to improve cognitive health across the lifespan.

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