Dog Cognition Centre
Explore our research within the University's 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 (Dogs 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.
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.
Take part in our research
We're always looking for volunteers to take part in our dog cognition research studies. If you're interested in registering you and your dog, please fill in the form below.
Discover our work at the Dog Cognition Centre
At the Dog Cognition Centre, we're answering some of the biggest questions in canine research.
[Did you know there's a Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth?]
[It was the first to open in the UK, and investigates how canines communicate and think]
Speaker 1: We run dog research studies here looking into dog human communication, dog cognition, things like that, where owned dogs come in and they basically take part in some fun activities. Mainly where they get dog treats.
For a study, we can work with anywhere between 20 and 40 dogs usually, but we work with all breeds. We seem to have a lot of labradors but I like working with them. So it's great.
So World Pet Day we're looking for dog owners to join our database. It's just answering a couple of questions about your dog. So its age its name, whether they are friendly, whether they like food and then – that was a a loud one, that's just her yawn. Yeah that's right.
So on World Pet Day, we're looking for owners to sign up to our dog register. It just involves them giving the name, some small information about their dog and kind of what their dogs likes, whether they're toy motivated, food motivated and then it means we can contact them and they can take part in studies here at the Dog Centre.
Mainly looking for people, if they're coming to the centre, to be around Portsmouth, in the local area. But then sometimes we might have like an online survey or something that dogs can take part in further away.
[Head to port.ac.uk/news to find out how to sign your four-legged friend up!]
[University of Portsmouth]
Our PhD candidates
- Jennifer Leighton-Birch
- Amy West