Beyond the Nose
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Dogs and wolves don’t just rely on their super noses to sniff out hidden food, according to a new study.
A research team discovered that canines are able to find secret treats by simply observing where a human hid them, Popular Science reported.
Their experiments involved nine timber wolves and eight mutts. Researchers assessed each animal’s ability to spot four, six, or eight caches of food, after either seeing a human hiding the food or without seeing the action at all.
Both dogs and wolves uncovered the first five food caches faster and with less effort when they watched a human hide them. The findings also showed that the wolves performed better than their domesticated relatives, regardless of whether they saw the food being hidden.
The team explained that the study shows evidence that the canine species are capable of a form of social learning known as observational spatial memory. This means that an animal is able to remember when another creature has hidden its food and then snatch it.
The findings suggest that the canine species didn’t necessarily rely solely on their olfactory senses, but also their memory.
The authors noted that even though wolves were better at finding the hidden cache, their performance is not tied to having a different observational spatial memory than dogs.
Rather, it’s related to other traits, such as persistence and food-related motivation.