Abstract We developed a holeboard paradigm to investigate the cognitive abilities of tree shrews ( Tupaia belangeri). The design allows animals to be tested in their homecages, which reduces possible confounding and stress factors, such as transfer to a special testing arena, food deprivation or other restraints. Nine male tree shrews performed four visuo-spatial and one spatial trial per day in two blocks of 5 consecutive days. Tree shrews needed only 1 day, that is five trials, to learn the complex holeboard paradigm. From the second day onwards the learning scores remained almost stable. To demonstrate the applicability of this paradigm in studies on the influence of stress on cognitive functions, three animals were subjected to and tested under psychosocial stress conditions on 2 consecutive days. Since the experimental animals also performed the task under stressful conditions the home cage holeboard paradigm is a valid tool to study the development of stress induced cognitive impairments.