PhD Researcher Amy West with her dog Reenie

The University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre is encouraging dog owners to sign up their four-legged friend to take part in pioneering research

20 February 2023

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Dog owners are being encouraged to sign up to a doggy database on World Pet Day (February 20th), by the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre.

It has been almost a decade since Britain’s first facility dedicated exclusively to studying dogs’ ability to understand humans and the world around them officially opened at the Langstone campus.

Since then, hundreds of dogs have taken part in games and been given tasks to solve to better understand how they interact with their environment, other dogs or people.

Dr Juliane Kaminski, Director of the Dog Cognition Centre in the Department of Psychology, said: “It is really exciting to know that we’ve been operating for almost ten years this November.

We’ve worked with dogs of all breeds, ages, genders and temperaments, and are truly grateful to their owners for supporting us in our work

Dr Juliane Kaminski, Director of the Dog Cognition Centre in the Department of Psychology

Dr Juliane Kaminski, Director of the Dog Cognition Centre in the Department of Psychology, said: “It is really exciting to know that we’ve been operating for almost ten years this November.

“We’ve worked with dogs of all breeds, ages, genders and temperaments, and are truly grateful to their owners for supporting us in our work. To continue making great strides in canine cognition research, we would benefit from having a larger database of dogs available to take part, both locally here in Portsmouth, and also further afield.

“Our only requirement is that you and your four-legged friend are eager to get stuck in!”

Research with domestic dogs is of interest to psychologists because, unlike primates such as chimpanzees (and some non-primates, such as elephants), dogs have a long history of living alongside humans – about 15,000-30,000 years!

The findings from the Dog Cognition Centre are useful and of interest to those who work with and rely on dogs, including guide dogs for the blind and people with other disabilities, the police and the military, as well as to those who keep dogs as pets.

Could your dog help answer some big questions in canine research?

The centre’s research explores:

  • Human-dog communication
  • Whether dogs are sensitive to what others can and cannot see
  • Facial expressions in dogs 
  • how dogs understand their physical environment
  • What dogs know about themselves
  • Their cooperation with other dogs and humans

The research carried out at the centre is strictly observational, and there are no invasive methods of any kind. Dogs are also always rewarded with food or play for completing their tasks and games.

In one study, the team discovered dogs have evolved new muscles around the eyes to better communicate with humans. Dr Kaminski’s research showed dogs moved their eyebrows significantly more when humans were looking at them. The hypothesis being that these  ‘puppy dog eyes’ trigger a nurturing response in humans.

The team has also mapped the facial movements of dogs, naming the movement responsible for a raised inner eyebrow the Action Unit (AU) 101.

Amy West, PhD Researcher at the Dog Cognition Centre, added: “Joining our dog register is just answering a couple of questions, their name, age, gender, if they’re toy-motivated, or food-motivated etc. We’re mainly looking for people who are around the Portsmouth area so they can easily come down to the centre, but we also have online surveys that owners further away can take part in.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the dog cognition research studies can register their interest by filling in this form.

External Audio

The power of puppy dog eyes