Research

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.
To read recent coverage of our dingo work in Scientific American, check out this link.

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.

To read recent coverage of our work comparing dogs to humans in New York Magazine, check out this link.
Peer Reviewed Publications

Bray, E., Otto, C., Udell, M., Hall, N., Johnston, A. M., & MacLean, E. (2021). Enhancing the selection and performance of working dogs. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 8, 644431. PDF

Pelgrim, M., Espinosa, J., Tecwyn, E, Marton, S., Johnston, A. M., Buchsbaum, D. (2021). What’s the point? Domestic dogs’ sensitivity to the accuracy of human informants. Animal Cognition, 24, 281-297. PDF

Silver, Z., Furlong, E., Johnston, A. M., & Santos, L. R. (2021). Training differences predict dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) preferences for prosocial others. Animal Cognition, 24, 75-83. PDF

Byrne, M., Bray, E., MacLean, E., Johnston, A. M. (2020). Evidence of win-stay-lose-shift in puppies and adult dogs. Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Royka, A. L., Johnston, A. M., Santos, L. R. (2020). Metacognition in canids: A comparison of dogs (Canis familiaris) and dingoes (Canis dingo). Manuscript in press at the Journal of Comparative Psychology. PDF

Johnston, A. M., Byrne, M., & Santos, L. R. (2018). What is unique about shared reality? Insights from a new comparison species. Current Opinion in Psychology, 23, 30-33. PDF

Johnston, A. M., Huang, Y., & Santos, L. R. (2018). Dogs do not demonstrate a human-like bias to defer to communicative cues. Learning & Behavior, 46(4), 449-461. PDF

Johnston, A. M., Holden, P. C., & Santos, L. R. (2017). Exploring the evolutionary origins of overimitation: A comparison across domesticated and non-domesticated canids. Developmental Science, 20(4), e12460. PDF

Johnston, A. M., Turrin, C., Watson, L., Arre, A. M., & Santos, L. R. (2017) Uncovering the origins of dog-human eye contact: Dingoes establish eye contact more than wolves, but less than dogs. Animal Behaviour, 133, 123-129. PDF

Johnston, A. M., McAuliffe, K. & Santos, L. R. (2015). Another way to learn about teaching: What dogs can tell us about the evolution of pedagogy. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, e44. PDF

In Press Publications

Hall, N., Johnston, A.M., Bray, E., Otto, C., MacLean, E., & Udell, M. (in press). Working dog training for the 21st century. Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

Johnston, A. M., Arre, A. M., Bogese, M. J., & Santos, L. R. (in press). How do communicative cues shape the way that dogs (Canis familiaris) encode objects? Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Johnston, A. M., Chang, L. W., Wharton, K., & Santos, L. R. (in press). Dogs (Canis familiaris) prioritize independent exploration over looking back. Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Book Reviews and Popular Press

Turrin, C., Johnston, A. M., & Santos, L., R. (2016). [Review of the book Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition, by Á. Miklósi]. Quarterly Review of Biology, 91, 88. PDF

Johnston, A. M. (2015, December 4). Getting inside the mind of a dog. Science Matters! Hartford Courant. PDF

Other News

Are Dogs as Smart as We Think?

Are Dogs as Smart as We Think?

Dr. Johnston was recently featured in an article entitled “How Stupid are Dogs, Really?” along with some of her colleagues from the field of dog cognition. This interesting article covers some of the misconceptions people tend to have regarding canine...

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Dingo Research

Dingo Research

Lab members Dr. Johnston and Molly Byrne just spent two wonderful weeks at the Dingo Discovery and Research Sanctuary just outside of Melbourne. They were able to collaborate with Zach Silver from Yale on several new studies with the fascinating dingoes. For more on...

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Sporting Dog Talk Podcast

Sporting Dog Talk Podcast

Our primary investigator, Dr. Angie Johnston, was recently invited to be a guest on the Sporting Dog Talk Podcast. In episode 63, she and the hosts discuss topics about canine communication including its evolution and what it means for owners. Check out the episode...

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