DOG owners are being encouraged to bring their pets along to Britain’s first centre dedicated to studying dogs’ ability to understand humans.
The Dog Cognition Centre has opened its doors at The University of Portsmouth.
It is open to family dogs of all breeds, genders, ages and temperaments, allowing researchers to study a huge range of dogs.
Dogs take part in games and are given tasks to solve, including obedience tasks, and researchers watch how they interact with their environment, other dogs or people. The findings will be useful 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.
The centre is headed by dog cognition expert, Dr Juliane Kaminski, who has spent more than a decade studying dogs’ understanding of the world they live in.
She said: ‘Research has shown us that dogs have some understanding of their world and are flexible problem-solvers. Some of their abilities equal those of young children.
‘We know dogs are sensitive to humans and that they understand our communication cues, such as pointing and looking at something, for example, in ways even our closest-living relatives – the chimpanzees – or dogs’ closest living relative – the wolf – can’t.
‘The minds of dogs are complex. But more research is needed to identify what mechanisms are controlling their behaviour and how much they really understand versus how much we think they understand.’
Dogs have been living with humans for 15,000 years but have only recently come out of the shadow of chimpanzees and other primates in terms of behavioural sciences.
In the past 15-20 years, scientists have begun to learn more about how and why dogs have successfully become human’s best friend.
Dogs of any gender, age or breed can take part in the studies, in which researchers play with them and set them tasks.
To take part, dog owners are asked to answer a few questions about their pet at port.ac.uk/dogcognition