Friday, November 8, 2013

Female dogs differ from their male counterparts when it comes to navigation, but who has the upper hand?

There are plenty of jokes made that men tend to be better navigators and that by and large, they need not ask for directions.

New findings indicate that skill may not be one that is shared amongst the male members of all species, however.

Two researchers from Duke University and the authors of The Genius of Dogs, Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, discussed the findings in the book.

What was discovered is interesting to say the least. Hare, an Associate Professor and Woods, a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology, note that data seems to indicate that female dogs seem to possess more advantageous navigational skills than their male counterparts.

This is especially intriguing as it can offer us crucial insight into how canines see the world.

Data was gathered from the website created by Hare and Woods,, and used a game to test possible differences in the way that dogs navigate.

To play the game, treats were hid under two bowls, and the dogs were taught that the treat was always on one side, right or left. Then, the pet was brought around to the opposite side and the bowl that they picked was recorded.

The findings indicate that female dogs were more likely to use a landmark-based (allocentric) strategy, using objects in the room to gauge distance and location and figure out which bowl had treats underneath.

To better illustrate, when female dogs were introduced to the bowl of treats, it might have been near a landmark in the room, like a door or a lamp. Then, they were brought around to the opposite side of the room. Interestingly, they used the landmarks to choose the correct bowl -- demonstrating that regardless of the way they were oriented in the room, they would always go back to the same bowl.

Male dogs were found more often to use egocentric navigation: using the position of the bowl in relation to themselves ("the treat is on my left.."). When these dogs were reintroduced to the room on the opposite side, they chose the bowl on their left, which was the opposite bowl from that they had chosen before.

Egocentric navigation is associated with using the area of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is associated with motor skill use. Allocentric navigation is linked to the hippocampus, an area of the brain that mediates things like spatial awareness and memory.

This isn't the only area where male and female canines have been found to differ with regard to how their brains work. Female dogs have been found to have enhanced visual skills -- and probably for good reason -- whereas males are thought to be more scent-oriented.

Interestingly, these results are the opposite in humans: men are typically allocentric navigators, and women lean toward egocentric skills.

Click here to read more here on the topic in a recent article featured on Yahoo News.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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