Department of Psychology
Dog Cognition Centre
For a number of reasons, the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) is a very interesting model for investigating different questions regarding the evolution of cognitive abilities. Domestic dogs have been living with humans for about 15.000-30.000 years. One hypothesis is that through selection during domestication dogs may have evolved specialized cognitive skills as an adaptation to their unique habitat, the human environment. Research in the past two decades has shown, for example, that dogs, as a result of selection pressures during domestication, have evolved an understanding of human forms of communication not to be found in other species (including chimpanzees and wolves).
Our research is strictly observational. There is no invasive research of any kind. We give the dogs various fun games to solve and by observing their decisions and strategies, we learn about their behaviour and cognitive processes. Dogs are always rewarded with food or play. The Centre invites family dogs of all breeds, genders and ages to take part in our fun activities and fun games.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology will be studying all kinds of questions around dog cognition some of which are listed below:
The main question is how flexible dogs' understanding of human communication is. Dogs are more skillful in making use of human pointing gestures than wolves and even chimpanzees are. However, we do not yet fully understand how dogs perceive such gestures, if e.g., they understand their referential nature. In addition, we are interested in dogs' ability to communicate referentially with humans and whether dogs use their communicative signals to e.g., helpfully communicate a referent to the human.
Visual Perspective Taking / Theory of Mind
The main question is whether dogs are sensitive to what others can and cannot see. In our tests the dogs are able to see an object that the human - who is present - cannot see e.g., because the object is in darkness and not illuminated. We want to know whether dogs take this additional information into account when making a decision to e.g., steal forbidden food.
Facial Expressions in Dogs (Dog FACS)
We are interested in the types of facial expression dogs produce when interacting with other dogs or with humans. We are also interested in the question how flexible dogs production of facial expression is and whether dogs e.g., intentionally produce certain facial expression to manipulate humans. To study dogs’ facial expression we developed Dog FACS (www.dogfacs.com).
Apart from being interested in how dogs understand their social environment, we are also interested in how dogs understand their physical environment. What do dogs understand about causal relationships? Do dogs understand that objects continue to exist after they have disappeared from the dog’s view?
Cooperation and Helping
We are interested in questions regarding dogs’ cooperative interactions with other dogs and/or with humans. We are also interested in questions regarding helping in dogs. Though many anecdotes suggest that dogs sometimes help humans (e.g., by recruiting potential helpers when their owner is in distress), as of yet there is not enough research to address this question scientifically.
Here we are especially interested to know whether dogs have the motivation to help others but also the cognitive capacity to understand when help is necessary and what to do to fulfill another individual’s goal.
If you want to volunteer:
We accept volunteer research assistants for (minimum) 3 month placements. Please contact Juliane.Kaminski@port.ac.uk for further information.