May 312012

In order to better understand CCD we found a missing link in the field was a method of assessing memory in pet dogs in a way that was both dog-friendly and accurate. RNG therefore developed and validated the Canine Sand Maze as a practical and accurate method of assessing canine spatial learning, working memory and delayed recall in pet dogs.

The Canine Sand Maze takes about 3 hours to complete at our specialist facility at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science. It first involves a number of learning trials, where the dog is taught to dig up a food treat buried in a large pool of sand that has powdered food mixed through it (to disguise the scent!). The dog then takes a break for 1.5 hours and comes back for the key ‘probe’ trial – on this occasion we are testing whether the dog moves preferentially to the old learnt location, rather than a new location where we have secretly buried the food. We can conclude that dogs who navigate towards the learnt location have intact spatial memory rather than are just trying to sniff it out.

The videos below show examples of a young dog that successfully completes the Canine Sand Maze probe trial (and then tries to escape!), and an old dog that has no delayed memory of the learnt food location. It’s easy to work out which one is which.