Dog cognition: scent research study

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At OhMyDog, we base our advice, courses and protocols on the latest research. We keep on top of the scientific literature so our clients get modern, reliable advice. Whilst surveying the latest research literature, we came across this interesting study, which we’ll summarize for you. 

We all knew dogs rocked at smelling, but this takes the mickey. In this study on working memory (which, in common parlance, is often referred to as ‘short-term memory’) a team of scientists have reproduced a classic study on rodents. The idea is to see how many items a dog can retain in his or her brain for immediate recall for a task. The answer is a staggering 72! For the average human, the number has long been thought to be… 7. 

So the average person can place about 7 items in ‘short-term’ memory – embedded in brain circuitry for quick retrieval for an immediate task. A task like… dialing a phone number. Ever wondered why phone numbers are composed of 7 digits (after the area code)?

Dogs just broke the mould on this study. The experiment consisted of rewarding the dog each time they pointed at a novel scent – one they hadn’t been exposed to during the experiment. To do this, the dog needs to remember which scents they WERE just exposed to. They ran this experiment again and again, and a huge proportion of the dogs could perform better than chance through the entirety of the sample: SEVENTY TWO scents! 

Beat this, Homo sapiens


Sarah Krichbaum, Bart Rogers, Emma Cox, L. Paul Waggoner & Jeffrey S. Katz (Feb 2020) – Odor span task in dogs (Canis familiaris) – Animal Cognition

Picture credit

Sniff, Sniff: Photographer = Liz West. License: CC BY 2.0


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