Our research seeks to answer three broad questions: (1) How do dogs think and see the world? (2) How has this changed across domestication? (3) What can this tell us about humans?
How do dogs think and see the world?
Our primary goal in our lab is to understand how dogs think and see the world. Dogs are a ubiquitous part of our lives, yet we know surprisingly little about their psychology. Our research is designed to tap into dogs’ minds by creating fun scenarios (e.g., searching games, puzzles, and magic shows) in which to observe dogs’ behavior. Although we are interested in answering many questions about dogs’ minds, the majority of our work investigates how dogs learn from and interact with humans. Through this work we hope to gain insight that can help facilitate service and working dog training, bolster human-dog bonds, and enhance the welfare of pet dogs.
To read recent coverage of our work with dogs by the American Kennel Club, check out this link.
How have dogs changed across domestication?
In addition to doing studies with pet dogs here in Boston, we also work with wild Australian dingoes at a sanctuary near Melbourne, Australia. Although closely related to dogs, dingoes are not domesticated. By comparing pet dogs to Australian dingoes we can identify which aspects of dog psychology have been shaped through domestication and which are evolutionarily more ancient.
What can dogs tell us about humans?
Although dogs are interesting to study in-and-of-themselves, we also study dogs at Boston College because of the insight they provide into our own human psychology. As dogs have become our best friends over domestication, they have become more similar to us in some ways than our closest primate relatives. As one notable example, dogs readily follow human social cues, like pointing or eye gaze, while our closest primate relatives struggle to interpret these cues without extensive training. Given that dogs are similar to us in so many ways, we are interested in exploring both the similarities and differences between dogs and humans so we can pinpoint aspects of psychology that may be uniquely human.