Angie Johnson, PhD

Primary Investigator

Angie Johnston is an assistant professor at Boston College where she directs the Canine Cognition Center and Social Learning Laboratory. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Yale University and her B.S. in Child Development from the University of Texas at Dallas. Her research on canine cognition and child development has received numerous awards from sources such as the National Science Foundation, and her work has been featured on NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, and Scientific American. When she’s not in the lab investigating how dogs and children learn about the world around them, you can find her at home getting new study ideas from her dog, Vader. You can find more information at her personal website. 

Molly Byrne

PhD Student

From personal relationships to society at large, humans have unprecedented abilities to interact with one another, even from infancy. Complex abilities like language, empathy and shared social realities must have evolved from other, simpler traits, like theory of mind, joint attention, and social expectations. Molly is really interested in these fundamental mechanisms. She believes that studying comparison species like dogs is the best way to get at the different pressures that might have caused these abilities to evolve.

Karen Jesch

PHD Student

People, animals, and how they work together – Karen has been fascinated by the animals around us and what they can tell us about ourselves since she was a child. A recent graduate from Canisius College where she received a B.S. in Animal Behavior, also studying communication, psychology, and anthrozoology, her interests lie in the cognitive perception of social others, learning mechanisms, and social interactions between people and dogs. Karen aims to continue contributing to canine social cognition in her career as a researcher and professor, teaching future scientists about animal behavior. She also enjoys baking, board games, and playing fetch with her cat, Phoebe!

Shennai Palermo

Lab Coordinator

Shennai has diverse research experience, having completed a Bachelor of Science with Honors in zoology, plant science, ecology and conservation biology. She was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. From childhood, she has had an affinity for the natural world with a particular interest in apex predators. Her passion has led her to research opportunities in Borneo and the Canadian Rockies, among many other places. 

Shennai has extensively studied the behavior and ecology of dingoes during her time at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Center in Toolern Vale, Australia. She is incredibly excited to use her knowledge of animal behavior to learn more about comparative psychology!

Anya P.

Lab Coordinator

Anya has always had a deep love for all animals. From a young age, her curiosity drove her to ask questions about the way humans and animals alike see the world. Her current research explores the evolution of learning, specifically the development of natural pedagogy over evolutionary time. One day, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. in animal cognition and behavior. 

Research Assistants

Juliana Amato

Juliana is a junior at Boston College majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Finance. She is very interested in the similarities and differences between children’s and dogs’  cognitions, and she is planning on investigating this more with her thesis project. Outside of the lab, Juliana enjoys exploring Boston with friends, cooking and spending time outdoors. After graduation, she hopes to continue working with animals in either a research or medical setting.

Ava Cahill

Ava Cahill is a sophomore at Boston College majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Applied Psychology and Human Development. She is interested in comparative research with dogs and children to understand human/dog relationships and their shared evolutionary history. After graduating, she would like to continue studying Neuroscience in a research setting to pursue a career in academia and research. In her free time, Ava loves drawing, listening to new music, and spending time with her dog, Leo.

Rachel Ceccanecchio

Rachel is a junior at Boston College majoring in neuroscience with a minor in philosophy on the pre-medical track. She is interested in studying moral intelligence in dogs to comparatively learn more about human empathy and expressions of remorse. When not in the lab, Rachel enjoys singing, dancing, and performing in musicals. While in the future she hopes to become a medical doctor, she is very excited to begin research with dogs at the Canine Cognition Center!

Gabriel Fajardo

Gabe is a Junior at Boston College majoring in Neuroscience and Math. He is very interested in the unique social interactions between dogs and their guardians, and how these relationships have evolved over time. His aspirations after Boston College are to go to graduate school and pursue a career in research and academia. Gabe also enjoys playing soccer, cooking, watching movies with his friends, and playing with his 15-year-old beagle!

Carly Fisher

Carly Fisher is a Senior at Boston College majoring in Psychology. She is currently enrolled in BC’s Fifth Year Master’s Program and is working towards obtaining her M.A. in Psychology. Carly is a thesis student in the lab and her project – entitled Overimitation – compares social learning processes in children and domestic dogs. Outside of the lab, Carly enjoys playing volleyball, baking, and reading. Following graduation, she plans to obtain her Ph.D. and pursue a career in academia.

Emily Gittle

Emily Gittle is a student at Boston College (’24) majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in English. She’s fascinated by emotional expression and complexity and wishes to learn more by examining how dogs and humans have learned to communicate. In the future, she hopes to obtain her Master’s degree in Affective Neuroscience or a related field and pursue a career in academia. When she’s not working in the lab, you can find her volunteering with Boston College Circle K, advocating for mental health with Active Minds, or hanging out with her beagles Comet and George!

Gia Hamalis

Gia Hamalis (‘23) is an undergraduate Research Assistant in the Canine Cognition Lab. She is very interested in researching attachment as well as the effect of domestication on the behavior of dogs versus dingoes and wolves. She would like to continue studying and working in animal behavior in the future in a research, zoo, or service setting. Outside of the lab, Gia loves reading, singing, and acting. She is part of the Boston College CCE and loves going on walks around Boston with friends.

Emily Shi

Emily is a neuroscience major in the Class of 2025. She is interested in how intelligence is measured in dogs versus in humans, and also the differences in how learning develops in dogs versus in humans. In her free time, Emily loves reading, exploring Boston, and dabbling in different hobbies.

Xioarui Zheng

Xiaorui Zheng is a student (’24) at Boston College majoring in Psychology and Economics. She is very interested in how certain social behaviors of dogs evolve through the process of domestication and artificial selection as well as the ways dogs think and behave in different contexts. She believes that this can help people better understand and interact with their dogs. During her free time, Xiaorui enjoys playing the piano, listening to music, and playing table tennis.

BC Dog Lab Alumni

Undergraduate Research Assistants

  • Daniel Pinerio 2022
  • Kayla Sawyer 2022
  • Mark Schmitt 2022
  • Zachary Tidd 2021
  • Hannah Lee 2021
  • Brenna Sharkey 2020
  • Kayleiagh Claremont 2020

REU Students

  • Lindsey Faucher 2021
  • Frida Reyes 2021
  • Kennedy Kreidell 2022
  • Noah Liedtke-Silva 2022
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