Transgenic mice that express familial Alzheimer's disease mutant forms of the human amyloid precursor protein (hAPP) have proved to be invaluable in determining the impact that the neurotoxic amyloid-β peptide has in vivo. In addition to the propensity to accumulate cerebral amyloid plaques, a crucial characteristic of hAPP mouse models is their cognitive impairments. To date the most widely used test for analyzing cognitive impairment in hAPP mice is the Morris water maze (MWM) which, due to the fact that mice are not "natural" swimmers, may not always be the ideal paradigm to investigate cognitive behaviours. Furthermore, not all cognitive impairments have been replicated across research laboratories. In the current study, we characterised the cognitive abilities of the J20 transgenic mouse line (expressing the Swedish 670/671 KM->NL and Indiana (717 V->F hAPP mutations) and non-transgenic mice. Mice were assessed in the cheeseboard task (i.e., a 'dry version' of the MWM) and a variety of other cognitive paradigms to test fear conditioning, object recognition and short-term memory to broaden the understanding of the cognitive deficits in J20 mice. hAPP transgenic mice perform normally in tasks for fear conditioning, short-term object recognition and short-term memory of context familiarity. However, they were profoundly impaired in their spatial reference memory capabilities in the cheeseboard task. The cheeseboard task has potential to replace the MWM task in situations where the MWM is not suitable for particular mouse models. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.