Angie Johnston, 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

Ph.D. 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

Ph.D. 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 graduate from Canisius University 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, raising future service dogs, and playing fetch with her cat, Phoebe!

Carly Fisher

Master’s Student

Carly Fisher is a Master’s student (’24) in BC’s Fifth Year Master’s Program. She is working towards obtaining her M.A. in Psychology. Carly completed a senior thesis in the lab (’23) and her project – entitled Overimitation – compared 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.

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!

Research Assistants

Juliana Amato

Juliana is a student (’24) 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 student (’25) 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 student (’24) 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!

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!

Xiaorui 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.

Selim Kolat

Selim Kolat is a student (‘25) at Boston College majoring in Psychology and minoring in Marketing. He is very interested in the awareness that dogs possess of the world and their emotions relating to this. Outside of the lab, Selim works as a Supervisor / Official for the intramurals program. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball with his friends as well as going into Boston and exploring whatever the city has to offer.

Nonni Schwartz

Nonni Schwartz is a student at Boston College (‘25) majoring in Biology. She has always been intrigued by the unique relationship between humans and dogs and is excited to learn more about how this connection, or lack thereof, impacts canine behavior. In the future, she hopes to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and eventually, open her own practice. When not in the lab, Nonni can be found volunteering on campus, crocheting, or hanging with her friends and four-legged pal, Bruce.

Maisy Dyer

Maisy Dyer is a student (’26) at Boston College majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Accounting. She is fascinated by the language of dogs and the surprising similarities they share with humans in terms of how they communicate and interpret words. Aside from BCCCC, Maisy works in the Office of First Year Experience and enjoys spending her time reading or going on runs.

BC Dog Lab Alumni

Undergraduate Research Assistants

  • Emily Shi 2023
  • Gabe Fajardo 2023
  • Gia Hamalis 2023
  • 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
  • Laura Furtado Fernandes 2023
  • Marisa Dohr 2023
  • Noemi Reyes 2023