Yale studying how dogs think

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Ever wonder what’s going through your dog’s mind? Yale University has opened up a Canine Cognition Center to study how dogs think.

When I heard that Yale had opened up a center to study how dogs think, I immediately enrolled my dog Nell.

“These are critters who live in our houses, they grow up with us, we’re constantly wondering what they’re thinking about, how they make sense of things,” said Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University and director of the Canine Cognition Center. “This is a real scientific way we can answer those questions.”

Nell takes part in a test at the Yale Canine Cognition Center.
Nell takes part in a test at the Yale Canine Cognition Center.

Yale undergrad and graduate students working at the dog lab are hoping to learn more about canine psychology through various problem solving games they give to the pooches.

“One study we’re really interested in is whether dogs can socially learn like human kids,” Santos said.

In one study they watch as dogs try to solve a puzzle, either on their own or with the help of an experimenter. The goal is to see how they process information and learn from others.

“What we’re interested in is when they see what a human does, does that limit how they explore,” Santos said. “First, do they kind of follow what people do, and also do they limit the kinds of exploration they do when they see others doing certain kinds of processes on these boxes.”

The first time Nell walked through the game she didn’t get any cues from the experimenter and used her mouth more to try to open some of the boxes. After she saw the experimenter use her hands, Nell picked up on her cues and used her paws.

“I think it will tell us more about how dogs learn best, which can help us for training service dogs, thinking about how we train our own dogs,” Santos said. “I think just thinking about this big question of what makes us special.”

News 8's Ali Reed and Nell at the Yale Canine Cognition Center.
News 8’s Ali Reed and Nell at the Yale Canine Cognition Center.

So far they’ve tested 60 dogs, with hundreds more waiting to come in and go through the studies. And even though your dog may be going to college she still needs you to accompany her. So sit back and relax and watch as your dog navigates her Ivy League environment.

Perhaps the best part for the parents is once your dog is accepted in the program she gets an official letter of Admission from the Canine Cognition Center, and as she progresses through each stage she gets her own diploma. Congratulations, Nell! You made it through the Freshman class. And what’s better than that?

They’re even thinking about having a graduation for the first class of dogs to go through all four levels of studies. Once they see enough dogs and conduct enough studies to make the results significant, they’re hoping to publish their findings in scientific journals.

To learn more about the center and how you can sign up your dog visit doglab.yale.edu.

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