British Columbia researchers seek dogs for cognitive study

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are looking for participants in a new study, but to qualify they must have four legs and have a belly massage.

In a press release, the UBC campus in Vancouver announces that it has opened a human-animal interaction lab and will soon be inviting dogs and their owners to participate in research on canine cognition.

“The goal is to find out why dogs do what they do and how do we determine individual differences in specific dogs,” says lab director Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Protopopova in the release.

Researchers say studying dog cognition could help them uncover new insights that will improve animal shelter practices and therapy dog ​​programs.

“We will also conduct studies of animal-assisted interventions using trained therapy dogs to improve the well-being of dogs working in assistance roles, as well as to refine methods of using therapy dogs. therapy in educational settings for the benefit of both the child and the dog,” the researchers say.

The canine lab has undergone safety inspections by UBC veterinarians and is equipped with 360-degree cameras, as well as a one-way mirror with an observation room next to it.

Dog toys and other homey touches have been added to the space to make the lab more warm and inviting.

“The animal’s comfort is a priority,” says Protopopova. “Our work is completely non-invasive, and we take that very seriously. All research is done to benefit the welfare of the animals and dogs that come.”

Protopopova says that although many different studies will take place in the laboratory, the main goal is to understand the differences in cognition of dogs, in terms of breed differences and individual differences.

“We take a behavioral angle in our research and look for differences between dogs on a small scale,” she says. “For example, we will look at how dogs interact with the world and what kinds of differences we might see in fundamental aspects of their learning, such as the speed at which knowledge is acquired and how fast or slow the dog can learn. engage with a new object.”

Protopopova says an example of a cognitive experiment they could conduct involves the “touch” command, where a dog learns to touch its nose to the palm of the owner’s hand. The researchers would then modify the rules by having the dog learn to touch both palms of the owner’s hands, then monitoring how long it takes the puppy to adjust to the new rules.

The researchers add that it will not only be up to the owner to participate in the study or not, but also up to the dog.

“It’s important for us to ask dogs if they would like to participate in the same way that we would invite children to participate in studies,” she says. “While we have consent forms for the owner, we also have assent procedures for the dog, just as we would have for children. Dogs always have the opportunity to engage and re-engage in If the dog doesn’t feel like moving forward, or if we see any signs of stress, we let the owner know and stop the experiment immediately.”

All puppies are rewarded with a certificate, graduation cap and sash whether they finish or not.

“We like to think of it as earning their Ph-Dog,” Protopopova says.