Welcome to the Boston College Canine Cognition Center’s screen reading accessible page!

Introduction

Use the list of links below to navigate this web page. The text across all of our pages can be located on this webpage, in addition to detailed descriptions of all images.

The web pages found on other parts of our website will be listed as a heading, with all other text listed underneath.

Home Page

Who we are

The Boston College Canine Cognition Center is a woman-led, community-centered research environment. We contribute to the understanding of human cognitive evolution by investigating the behavior of modern canid species. We believe the best research is creative, inclusive, and collaborative; this is the foundation of our approach. 

 

Get Involved!

Our community is at the center of our mission! We value you — our participants — most of all. Join our community, contribute to innovative research, and bring your fluffy friend for the ride! Sign up to be a BCCC team member and contribute to citizen science. 

Why Dogs?

Dogs, a subspecies of modern wolves, have coexisted with humans for thousands of years. Research indicates that something very special occurred to integrate dogs into human society — domestication. As a lab, we investigate domestication’s impact on canids’ evolutionary history. This helps us improve our understanding of humans. Why? Because humans might have been domesticated too. 

About Us

Our Story

The Boston College Canine Cognition Center maintains a community-centered approach as the foundation of its work. We seek to provide a fun, informative experience for all participants and students. By focusing on our community’s diversity of knowledge and experiences, we produce innovative, creative research of which anyone can be a part. 

We were founded in 2019 by primary investigator, Dr. Angie Johnston, and current Ph.D. Candidate, Molly Byrne, with the desire to better understand how humans and dogs think. While doing so, we sought to create a student-focused research space, where BC undergraduates from all backgrounds could learn the hidden curriculum of academia and have the opportunity to produce groundbreaking work. Additionally, we sought to connect with the greater Boston community, making science accessible to people from all walks of life by allowing them to participate directly in our research.

Citizen Science

Citizen science is at the center of our mission. You can participate virtually or in person and contribute to our work! Be a scientist. Join us at the BCCC!

Click here: I want to join!

Our Mission

Our primary goal as a lab is to remain on the cutting edge of canine cognition research. Our interest in canine cognition is multifaceted, as we seek to discover all that canine cognition can teach us about

(1) human psychology,

(2) domestication,

(3) human-dog interaction,

(4) service and working dogs,

and (5) pet dogs.

Our approach is to publish well-thought-out and replicable research that moves the field of canine cognition forward. As we conduct our research, we also seek to engage students and the public in our scientific process as much as possible, with a particular focus on training students to be successful and ethical independent researchers.

 

It is our priority that every member of our lab, no matter their role, feels safe, comfortable, and happy while they are being productive in the lab environment. We are committed to providing a space that allows for communication in all directions. We strive to constantly improve our lab community by encouraging constructive criticism and comments at any time.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why study dog cognition?

Humans and dogs share an environment. Don’t believe us? Well — don’t your neighbors have dogs? Additionally, dogs and humans engage in behavior that’s relatively rare, and that’s sociality. The fact that humans and dogs can co-exist with many other individuals is a special trait that may have evolutionary implications. All of this to say — dogs and humans have a lot in common. We’re interested in understanding the relationship between these commonalities to better understand what dogs can tell us about the evolution of humans.

2. What does your research look like?

Our research involves lots of treats and cognitive games! The games we do are relatively simple, but en-mass give us insight into the ways dogs make decisions.

3. Do I have to pay?

Nope!

4. I signed -up on SONA. Now what?

Once you complete your pre-screening, you are now eligible to sign up for an in-person appointment.

If you are located in the greater Boston area, the first appointment you sign up for should be the initial visit. After the initial visit, you will receive invitations to participate in future studies for which you’re eligible.

Virtual Studies have a two-step sign-up process, the first being the completion on online consent forms. The consent forms are set up as a study and can be found on the “studies” page in SONA. They are labeled Part 1:”study name.” Then go to Part 2 to sign up for your virtual study slot.

All virtual studies are hosted in the EDT.

5. I have an in-person appointment. What do I do?

Follow the arrival protocol on the “visit” page! Please do not enter the building before calling us and completing pre-screening questions. 

6. I have a virtual appointment. What do I do?

Log onto your zoom link at the appointed time. This link will be sent in an automated email.

Our Research

Our research questions

How do dogs think and see the world?

We seek to understand how dogs see the world. Dogs are an important part of human life, which is why it’s shocking that we know so little about their psychology. The BC Dog Lab taps into dogs’ minds using fun puzzles that let us observe their behavior. We’re particularly interested in understanding how dogs learn from their human friends. Long term we seek to support service and working dog training, human-dog bonds, and pet welfare.

Has domestication changed dog behavior?

Domestication, in the animal cognition space, is used to describe an evolutionary process by which animals experience selection pressure for tameness. Selection pressure is a term used to describe an environment’s impact on an animal’s chances of survival. Scientists have noticed a strong correlation between domestication and certain behavioral and physiological traits that seem to impact dogs and all other domesticated animals. We compare the cognitive abilities of domesticated canids like dogs and dingos (who are semi-domesticated) to the cognitive abilities of wolves to better understand how domestication has impacted canid thinking abilities. Why is this important? Because there’s evidence that humans have been domesticated too!

What does dog behavior say about humans?

We study dogs to understand humans. There is evidence that humans and dogs share something special — both of us have undergone domestication. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, domestication is a process that has anatomical and behavioral consequences for a species’ social behavior. Because both dogs and humans have undergone domestication, we can study dogs to better understand how humans’ complex behavioral ecology evolved. 

Our projects

The Strategy Project — Game Theory

How has domestication impacted the way dogs react to challenges?

Different species, based on their environment, respond uniquely to problems. By doing this study, we can learn more about the way dogs’ environment shaped their decision-making.

After completing an initial visit and submitting your pet’s vaccinations, click the link below to see if you’re eligible to sign up!

Our publications

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

Our Team

Administrators

Angie Johnston, Ph.D.

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. Candidate

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.

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 Parks, 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. As lab coordinator of the Boston College Canine Cognition and Social Learning Centers, she is incredibly excited to continue pursuing her passions. She strongly believes that studying dogs allows us to better understand the origins of humankind. 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

Rachel Ceccanecchio

Rachel is a sophomore 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 Junior at Boston College majoring in Psychology with a minor in Applied Psychology and Human Development. She is intrigued by the comparison of emotional expression between animals and humans. She is very grateful to be a part of the Canine Cognition Center and to expand the love of dogs she has held since she was a child. On-campus, Carly serves as a Resident Assistant and a Campus Tour Guide. Following graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to obtain her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

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.

Daniel Pinerio

Daniel Pineiro is in the class of 2022 and is from Chicago, Illinois. He hopes to continue learning in the psychology laboratory setting before he applies to graduate school for clinical studies. He is fascinated with experimental, behavioral, and all psychology relating to canine and other animal subjects. In his free time, he plays on the club volleyball team and is the co-president of the Cuban-American Student Association at Boston College.

Kayla Sawyer

Kayla Sawyer is a senior at Boston College who is studying to receive her Bachelor of Science in neuroscience with minors in biology, medical humanities, and managing for social impact. She has grown up surrounded by dogs and has two dogs at home: a pitbull named Winnie and a German Shepherd named Racke. Kayla loves working as a research assistant in the Canine Cognition Center and her favorite part of the job is meeting as many dogs as possible. Kayla is particularly interested in social cognition and learning more about emotion in dogs. When she is not spending time with her canine friends, Kayla is probably spending time with kids instead, as she enjoys spending her free time with her nieces and nephew.

Mark Schmitt 

Mark Schmitt is a rising Senior in the Canine Cognition Center double-majoring in Psychology and English. Like so many other research assistants, Mark has grown up around dogs his entire life, and is beyond grateful for the opportunity to work alongside and better understand them. He is currently working on the re-engagement study which investigates if dogs are capable of joint intentionality, something believed to be exclusive to humans. When not studying dogs, Mark is the president of the CCE, a comedy group on campus, and he enjoys reading/writing, going on runs, and spending quality time with friends

 

The Social Learning Lab

Part of our comparative work involves us comparing dog behavior to those of human children to better understand how human cognition evolved. 

 

For Students

Undergraduates

Become a Research Assistant

Subscribe for application updates using the following link (https://forms.gle/XRyFHD2VG88cmfmo7). If you have difficulty using google forms, please contact us at canine.cognition@bc.edu.

Semester Assistantships

POSITION DETAILS:

Boston College undergraduates only for semester cycles. Non-BC students, apply in the summer.

Paid assistantship OR class credit 

5 to 10 hours of weekly, in-person, work

Weekly lab meetings (prep required)

TIMELINE: 

Application closes Sunday, first week of classes

Interview invitations are sent during the second week of classes. 

Final decisions are sent by the third week of classes

NOTE:

We are a small lab and are only able to take a small number of students. If you are not accepted this semester, we encourage you to try again! Owing to COVID and space restrictions, we no longer have open lab meetings. We may make exceptions for particularly interested students.

Academia is full of rules, expectations, and cultural norms that are difficult to learn if one does not have access to particular resources. This leads to the exclusion of certain groups, particularly low-income, first-generation, or POC students. As a lab that studies the evolution of learning and teaching, we are particularly passionate about increasing accessibility to higher learning. We do this by providing a student-centered approach to mentorship, carefully guiding our students through all aspects of research and academia.

Please note that our application and interview cycle is early, with application deadlines in November for the Spring semester, in February for the Summer semester, and in September for the Fall semester. Please check this page for application openings.  

Summer Assistantships

REU Internship: Non-BC Students Only

Application linked here: (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeYWtJK5dOk9LXtdNY4oDJX1XRaGj3_hq8bI-Zrxiy9e6s5jw/viewform)

The REU summer internship is conducted in collaboration with the Boston College Developmental Psychology program. We are one of four participating labs hosting the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates summer internship*. When applying through REU, you are applying to work with one of the four amazing labs in the BC Developmental Psych program. 

Position Description“Summer interns will gain hands-on experience in all aspects of socio-cognitive developmental psychology research while also participating in professional development meetings and learning computer programming. This is an excellent program for students who want to learn more about research, who may be interested in pursuing graduate school.”

Position Details

  • REU internships are reserved for students who are first-generation, veterans, or from historically underrepresented groups. 
  • Students must be enrolled in an accredited, American undergraduate program
  • Students must be rising sophomores, juniors, or seniors
  • HOURS: Full-time for 10 weeks starting in June and continuing through August.
  • COMPENSATION: $600 per week
  • HOUSING: Fully covered on-campus housing

There are four participating developmental psychology labs. Students will be accepted to primarily work within one of these labs for the duration of the summer.  Learn about our collaborators here: http://www.bccooperationlab.com/reu

Apply

1. Complete REU application linked here: (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeYWtJK5dOk9LXtdNY4oDJX1XRaGj3_hq8bI-Zrxiy9e6s5jw/viewform)

2. Email resume or CV to allbcdev@gmail.com

*All funding is pending official award notification for a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site Grant.

Dog Lab Summer Internship: BC Students Only

By applying to the Dog Lab summer internship, you are applying to work with our team directly. If you are eligible to apply to the REU internship, you may apply to both the REU and the Dog Lab summer programs. Students from previous semesters are not auto-enrolled into the summer internship – all who are interested must apply. 

Position Details
  • PAID: Determined by lab funds. Payment disclosure coming soon
  • HOURS: 40hrs/week for 10 weeks starting in June and continuing through August.
  • In-person: Housing is not provided — you are expected to find housing using your stipend. Our work in-person is dependent on COVID.

How to write an essay for the BC Dog Lab

Advice on Applying to the BCCC

What do we look for in an applicant?
Academic curiosity is one of the main things we look for in a potential research assistant. Research requires creativity and a desire to understand what’s going on around you. Experience is not a priority. Excitement about knowledge and exploration is.

If you’re a student with limited research experience, how do you demonstrate academic curiosity?

Read the work listed on our research page. You may not fully understand everything you read, but that’s okay. Expressing curiosity about the topics that confuse you is an important part of being a scientist. If you get ideas while you read, regardless of whether or not you’re sure it’s a “good” idea, it’s worth presenting those ideas in your application. We want to know what is exciting to you. Generating ideas is a sign of a scientific mind.

What makes for a good essay?
We want to understand why you specifically want to work with us. What makes you curious about the research we do? What excites you about dog cognition research? What are your motivations for doing research and why would working with our lab help you in particular?

We want to understand you as a potential teammate and researcher. How do you work with others and what kind of questions do you have?

Remember that your essay is one of the only things we will learn about many of our applicants. Give us the opportunity to get to know you.

How long should my essay be?
Essays should be only as long as they need to be. Think about the ideas you want to get across, the things about you that you want your reader to know, and that will determine how long your essay will be.

REU Clarifications

Each lab has a slightly different process by which they choose to read applications. The dog lab only reviews those that mark us as their first choice. When composing an essay we recommend having specific research questions that show why you want to work with our team and study dogs.

Prospective Ph.D.s

BCCC in the Media

Scientific American: Wolves Raised by Humans Can’t Understand People like Dogs Can

BC Magazine: Learning from Man’s Best Friend: BC’s Canine Cognition Center Studies how Dogs think – and what that can tell us about humans

PBS: How is this dog smarter than this boy?

Forbes: Dogs turn to humans for help faster than pigs, research suggests

Gizmodo: How stupid are dogs, really?

Sporting Dog Talk: How canine communication evolved and what that means to us as dog owners

Big Think6 reasons why dogs truly are man’s best friend

The AtlanticDogs’ eyes have changed since humans befriended them

 

American Kennel ClubCopycat dogs: Understanding and using dogs’ ability to imitate

 

The AtlanticAre Australians redomesticating the dingo?

New Haven RegisterYale dog psychology offers glimpse into what our dogs might be thinking

Podcast: Quanta MagazineA domesticated dingo? No, but some are getting less wild

Scientific American: Puppy dog eyes may have evolved in stages

Particle: Behind the puppy-dog eyes

Quartz: The dog training strategies that work on kids

Psychology Today: A dog is more likely to ignore bad advice than a child

Big Think: Want to work smarter, not harder? Think like a dog

Economic Times India: Pick & choose! Dogs ignore bad advice from humans

TIME: Here’s one way your dog is a better learner than you

New York MagazineYour dog is too smart to follow your dumb human advice

Yale News (video clip)Dogs ignore bad advice that humans follow

Yale Daily News: Grad students explain the relationship between humans and dogs

WTAE Channel 4 (video clip)The dingo is key to evolutionary history of dogs

Yale Daily News: Do children know truth from fiction?

Today Show (video clip): Scientists go inside the minds of dogs

Melton Leader: Some paws for thought

Yale Graduate School Newsletter: What can dogs teach us about teaching?

NBC Nightly News (video clip): That doggone intuition: Is your dog smarter than you think?

WTNH Channel 8 (video clip): Yale studying how dogs think

Psych Report: Global sustainability through a social psychological lens: Climate change research at SPSP 2014

Science Daily: Experts’ attitudes influence what children believe

British Psychological Society Research Digest: Young children trust kindness over expertise

 

Participate

Sign up & join

Click to “Go to SONA” 

SONA is our participant management system. It is through SONA that you can sign your dog up for studies! 

  1. Request an account on SONA using this link: http://bcdoglab.sona-systems.com
    1. You don’t need to fill out the student ID
    2. One account per dog
  2. Check your email to receive your login info. You will receive an autogenerated password after making a user name. 
  3. Upon your first login, you will complete a form telling us about you and your dog called a pre-screening. You will be able to change your password. 

Click here to read about our reasearch

Visiting Protocol

Before your visit

Upload your pets’ rabies vaccination using this link. https://tinyurl.com/BCCCvetrecords. Additionally, your vet can send us documentation, or we can contact them on your behalf. If you have difficulty accessing google forms with your screen readers, please email us your documentation at canine.cognition@bc.edu

Before your visit

1. Call before leaving your home to give ETA at 617-552-3068 and give us the make and model of your vehicle. We use this to meet you downstairs. 

2. We have free parking! When you arrive, if you are not met downstairs, call and we will meet you downstairs with a parking pass. 

NOTE: Please do not come up to the lab before we meet you outside and complete additional pre-screening.

We ask that participants either be 18 or older. 

For Students

At the Boston College Canine Cognition Center, we proudly mentor a team of dedicated, brilliant undergraduates. Every semester we recruit new research assistants who are ready to contribute to the field of academic inquiry.

We take students of all experience levels and ages, with an interest in supporting academics from all walks of life. Our lab deeply values mentorship and education; as a research assistant of the BCCC, you’ll have all the information and guidance that you’ll need.

Do you want to be a part of this elite crew of researchers? Click the following link to find out more about our undergraduate and graduate opportunities: sites.bc.edu/doglab/for-students

Contact Us

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