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Play With Your Dog And Perform Scientific Research At the Same Time
Photo: cwia.org

Over the past decade or so, scientists have been exploring canine cognition and behavior in much greater detail than ever before. As humans develop closer bonds with canines we want to understand how they think and why they act the way that they do. The better we understand canines’ cognitive processes and behavior patterns, the stronger our bonds with them will be.

We’ve learned one thing for sure – dogs are much more complex creatures than humans originally thought. We still have a lot to learn about man’s best friend, and laboratories can only hold so many dogs and perform so many tests at a time. To date, most of the studies that have been done on canines have used a very small number of dogs to draw conclusions about the entire species. That is leading some researchers to wonder if dog owners could conduct their own research and share it with the scientific community.

In a study published this week in the journal PLoS One, researchers revealed preliminary results from Dognition.com, a website that leads pet parents and their dogs through a series of behavioral tests that are specifically designed to reveal a canine’s cognitive style.

Play With Your Dog And Perform Scientific Research At the Same Time
Photo: free-stock-illustration.com

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For example, one of the tests is designed to see if dogs rely more on their sense of smell or their memory. It requires the owner to place a dog treat under one of two cups while the dog watches. Then they must switch the treat to the other cup without the dog seeing. If he heads to the first cup, he is relying on his memory. If he heads to the second cup, he is relying on his sense of smell.

The tasks are all very simple and can easily be done with objects that all pet owners have around their house. Once the results are logged, the site is able to use the data to assign the dog to one of nine cognitive profiles. Researchers in the study have taken the Dognition results for 522 dogs and compared it with the data collected from the same tasks performed in past studies at the Canine Cognition Center and other testing facilities.

In five out of the seven categories, they found that the Dognition data matched the records in the controlled lab studies. They believe that this pattern hints at a future where citizen science could be a fruitful area for canine research. Still, the practical applications for websites like Dognition are a ways down the road.

The popularity of the site does lead one to believe that pet owners are equally as interested in their dog’s cognitive reasoning as scientists are. We want to know what makes our pets tick. Why do they make the decisions they make? Are they simply going through life without linking any experiences together, or can they make educated decisions based on experiences from the past?

Play With Your Dog And Perform Scientific Research At the Same Time
Photo: tarynblyth.co.za

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How do dogs think and process information? It’s a huge question that will take many more years’ worth of research to complete, but soon we may be able to help scientists speed up the process. Dog owners around the world may be able to log onto the internet and input scientific data from their own pets that can be translated by some of the world’s leading canine researchers. Now that’s amazing!

Dognition is a paid service. They offer three packages including the initial one-time assessment for $19. It includes 20 interactive games, an in-depth analysis of your dog’s results, and a Dognition profile report. You can also subscribe monthly for the $19 fee plus $9 per month. On top of the basic package you’ll also receive additional monthly games, expert tips and tricks, and 50% off additional dogs. You can get this same package for a flat rate of $79 if you’d like to sign up for a full year of Dognition service.