Wolves and dogs remember where food is hidden, shows study

Credit: Jeroen Bosch/Unsplash

Ever played hide and seek with your dog using treats?

You might think your dog finds the hidden treats solely based on their strong sense of smell.

But a new study says it’s not just about sniffing out the snacks; dogs—and their wild relatives, wolves—actually remember where you hid them!

Researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna in Austria decided to test how good wolves and dogs are at finding hidden food.

They wanted to see if these animals use their eyes and memories as well as their noses to find goodies.

The study involved nine wolves and eight mixed-breed dogs who live at the Wolf Science Center in Austria.

The team hid different amounts of food in four, six, or eight places. Sometimes the animals watched a human hide the food, and other times they didn’t. The goal was to find out whether seeing the food being hidden made a difference in how quickly and accurately the animals could find it.

Guess what? Both wolves and dogs were quicker and more accurate at finding the food when they had seen where it was hidden.

That means they were using more than just their sense of smell; they were remembering the hiding spots! This type of memory is called “observational spatial memory.”

Who was better—wolves or dogs?

The wolves were a bit better at the game than the dogs, but not because they remembered better. The researchers think the wolves were just more motivated and persistent when it came to finding food.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, this study shows that both dogs and wolves can learn by watching. That’s a form of social learning, which is how creatures learn from one another.

Dogs, being tamed wolves, are pretty similar to their wild relatives in this way. This also means that when your dog finds the treat you hid, it’s not just sniffing it out; it’s remembering where it saw you put it!

Any Surprises?

The researchers were surprised to find that the ability to remember didn’t differ much between dogs and wolves.

Many people think that domestic dogs might have different skills since they’ve been living with humans for so long. But it turns out, their cognitive abilities—or thinking skills—are not that different from wolves.

So, the next time you play hide and seek with your dog, remember—it’s not just sniffing out that hidden treat.

It’s also recalling where it saw you hide it! And if you ever meet a wolf in the woods, maybe it, too, would be pretty good at this game (although, for safety reasons, it’s best not to try it!).

This study reminds us that both dogs and wolves are clever animals, capable of more than we might think at first glance.

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