One-eyed Frenchie, Eddie; Ryder, the fluffy Samoyed; and Bacon, the miniature Schnauzer, are regular visitors at University College, University of Toronto where a Canine Cognition Lab is being run by a team of students and researchers who conduct social cognitive experiments in order to understand the mind of mind of the domestic dog.
According to information on the University of Toronto’s official website, the lab, which was established around 2015, is being run by Daphna Buchsbaum, an assistant professor in the department of psychology out of a basement room at the University College.
“What we’re trying to figure out is: What are dogs capable of in general as a species? How do they reason about the world? How is it like how we think? How is it like how other animals think?” the website reads, quoting Daphna Buchsbaum.
Including dogs in psychology research is not really a new thing, as Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov had conducted experiments on them to understand classical conditioning in the early 20th century. Although the focus momentarily shifted on primates owing to their shared evolutionary history with humans, an interest in dog conginition revived after their ability to communicate with human beings was discovered.
“The finding was that, even when they’re compared to other animals including primates, they’re a lot better at understanding human communicative cues,” Buchsbaum was quoted as saying in the University’s official website.
Dogs have proved to be very efficient in understanding human beings, especially when it comes to pointing. If food is hidden outside of a canine’s view in opaque cups, a dog is very likely to choose the correct one if a person points to the cup with food. “This seems really simple, but it turns out it’s not for a lot of other animals,” Buchsbaum says.
She adds that even chimps sometimes get this wrong.
Buchsbaum has completed her PhD in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She also has a background in statistics and artificial intelligence. It was when she was in California, that her dog Pumpkin and she were trained for a wilderness search-and-rescue team. This made her more curious to know how does the mind of a dog work, those who are domesticated.