Duke Canine Cognition Center

Overview

The Duke Canine Cognition Center (DCCC) is dedicated to the study of dog psychology. Our goal is to understand the flexibility and limitations of dog cognition. In doing so, we gain a window into the mind of animals as well as the evolution of our own species. We can apply our knowledge of dog cognition to improving programs in which dogs are bred and trained to help humans (e.g., service dogs for the disabled).

The Duke Puppy Kindergarten is another area of research at our center. Each semester, we get a new group of 10-week-old puppies from the organization Canine Companions for Independence (https://www.cci.org/), which provides assistance dogs to people in need. When the puppies are on campus, anyone can come visit them in the subbasement of the Biological Sciences building (room 002A) on Duke's West Campus. Unfortunately, we were not able to welcome puppies onto campus this fall, and we are closed to visitors for the semester. We look forward to hopefully having a new group of puppies for the Spring 2021 semester!

We study dog cognition by inviting dog owners living in the vicinity of Duke University (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) to volunteer their pet dog(s) to play fun problem solving games where they can win treats (food or toys). The Duke Canine Cognition Center has the the highest acceptance rate and cheapest tuition at Duke! So join hundreds of others and sign up today so that your dog can help us gain an even better understanding of our very best friends.

Enroll Your Dog

Enroll your dog to participate in our studies at the Duke Canine Cognition Center by filling out our online Dog Registration Form.

 

The Hare Group runs both the Duke Canine Cognition Center and the Hominoid Psychology Research Group (3chimps).

Why Study Dog Cognition

Other than humans, dogs are easily the most successful large mammal on the planet. From the Arctic Circle to the deepest jungles of the Amazon, dogs have traveled with humans for thousands of years, and the role of dogs in society has continued to grow.

Seen in the past as an artificial creation with unremarkable cognitive abilities, dogs were excluded from cognition studies in favor of primates. However, they are now a dominant player in studies of animal cognition, and we have learned an incredible amount about their own cognitive skills in the last ten years. Dogs have now caught the attention of linguists, evolutionary biologists, psychologists and anthropologists.

The last decade of research has shown that dogs are more than mere learning machines: they have a rich understanding of their world, which allows them to be flexible problem solvers. Some of their skills even resemble those we see in young children.

Our previous research has taken us from Africa to Siberia, where we have compared dogs to a range of species from domesticated apes and foxes to human-reared wolves. To understand the variation within dogs, we have worked with every different type, from the tiniest shelter puppy to the exotic New Guinea singing dog. This research has revealed not just the psychological abilities that allow dogs to be so successful, but the process by which their human-like abilities evolved.

Even though researchers from the Duke Canine Cognition Center have been studying dog cognition for over fifteen years we are only just beginning to understand the psychology of dogs. We are currently studying how dogs understand communicative intentions, the effect of domestication of their psychology, how they form trusting relationships, navigate, and form memories.

Dog intelligence does not map onto a linear scale. Each breed, and perhaps individual, has its own strengths and weaknesses when solving problems. Because their is so much variation between different dogs this means that every dog can contribute to improving our understanding of dog psychology. Enroll your dog and join us in trying to understand the minds of our best friends!

This is an exciting moment for dog lovers. Dogs have become crucially important to humans, both in how they improve our quality of life and in what they tell us about ourselves. We have begun to unlock the secrets of the dog’s mind and in the future we will be able to apply these secrets in helping dogs and people form an even stronger bond.

Dogs' Understanding of Communicative Intentions

Our previous research revealed that dogs are more skilled at spontaneously reading human communicative cues (e.g. pointing gestures, etc.) than chimpanzees and other primates. To understand the origins of these skills, I have conducted research with puppies, wolves, New Guinea singing dogs, and chimpanzees.

All of this research suggests that dogs, while cognitively unremarkable in many ways, also possess an unusual ability to read human communicative intentions. Just like children, dogs are highly attuned to our gestures, and they can use this ability in novel situations to flexibly assess what we want.

We are conducting studies to continue probing how flexible dogs can be in understanding our gestural communication. We are adapting studies conducted with young children for use with dogs. In this way we can understand how dog cognition is similar and different from that observed in young children (or other primates we test with the same game).

Research with Service Dogs

A revolution in our understanding of dog cognition has occurred in the past decade, but little of this new understanding has been applied to real world problems.

Clinical studies show that service and companion dogs can have a significant positive impact on those with physical and mental disabilities. Unfortunately, there is a finite supply of service dogs and the growth potential of this supply is limited.

The Duke Canine Cognition Center and Canine Companions for Independence are working together to identify cognitive traits that make some dogs more successful service dogs than others.

In studying the cognitive abilities of service dogs we will both develop a better understanding of what psychological mechanism(s) successful service dogs rely on or are constrained by when helping humans.

We can then use this information to better predict which puppies will be successful service dogs – improving the success of training while increasing the potential number of service dogs available.

The Domestication of Dog Social Cognition

The unusual skills dogs exhibit in spontaneously using human social gestures led our group to wonder what the origins of these skills might be. One hypothesis we have tested is the idea that dogs acquired these skills through the process of domestication. We have tested this hypothesis by examining the use of human communicative gestures in wolves, various populations of dogs (i.e. New Guinea Signing dogs), dogs of various ages, and in a unique population of experimentally domesticated foxes. The foxes have provided the strongest test of the effect of domestication on social cognition.

Dmitri Belyaev fled Moscow in Stalin’s Russia post-World War II when Darwinian theories of evolution were prohibited. Hidden in Siberia, he continued testing Darwinian ideas under the disguise of a fur farm. While breeding foxes for the fur industry, he covertly began breeding a population of foxes with the hopes of revealing the genetics of domestication. He chose foxes for breeding based on a single criterion. He only bred them if they fearlessly approached humans. To his surprise, he stumbled onto the very cause of domestication. After a few generations of breeding, his foxes began displaying many dog-like characteristics. They developed floppy ears, spotted coats, curly tails – they even wag their tails and bark even though he never selected for any of these traits. This experimental domestication is viewed by many biologists as the most important behavioral genetics work of the past century.

We compared the experimentally domesticated foxes to a control line of foxes that was not experimentally domesticated. We found that the experimental foxes were as skilled at using human communicative gestures as dogs while the control line performed more like chimpanzees and wolves. Experimentally domesticating the foxes to be "nicer" made them "smarter"!

This discovery has shaped the way we think about the evolution of chimpanzee and bonobo cognition as well as the evolution of our own species psychology. See Hominoid Psychology Research Group for more.

Navigation and Memory in Dogs

All animals must navigate in space as well as remember places and social encounters. Dogs must also navigate and remember experiences in their daily lives. However, very little is known about how dogs navigate or how they remember things.

The Duke Canine Cognition Center is carrying out a series of projects to begin to understand how dogs navigate and remember experiences. What cognitive strategies do dogs use when navigating or remembering events? Do all dogs navigate and remember things in a similar way? Are there systematic breed differences?

We hope to not only describe the skill dogs have in these domains but also reveal how these skills are constrained. In this way we can help improve the ability of those training dogs to help humans with disabilities navigate or potentially to even detect IEDs (explosives).

Trust in Dogs

Cooperation and communication require trust. Yet cheaters can take advantage of individuals who are too trusting. Many animals – including humans – have various psychological mechanisms that allow them to form trusting relationships with others and avoid cheaters.

How do dogs form trusting relationships? Do they trust their owner more than a stranger? Do they trust someone who has pet them for a few minutes more than someone who has not? If a dog trusts a social partner in one context does that mean she trusts them in every social context?

We are conducting research at the Duke Canine Cognition Center that investigates how dogs form trusting relationships with humans. This research can be applied to work with shelter dogs and service dogs. Both populations must frequently change handlers and their success or failure in being adopted into a family relies on their ability to form trusting relationships. Our research will allow for the development of tests that can be used to identify dogs who will be most likely to successfully form trusting relationships with multiple handlers.

Enroll your dog to participate in our studies at the Duke Canine Cognition Center by filling out our online Dog Registration Form.

Enrollment

The Duke Canine Cognition Center has the cheapest tuition and highest acceptance rate at Duke!

This means we are interested in the cognition of dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds (mutts & purebreds). We only require that they be up to date on their rabies and bordatella vaccine. Once enrolled, dogs will be eligible to participate in fun cognitive games at the Duke Canine Cognition Center.

Our students run several projects each semester and each project may require different types (ages, breeds etc.) of dogs. We contact dog owners based on the requirements of each of our research projects. This may mean that you are not contacted immediately, but it is almost certain that you will be (we keep records of who we have and have not previously invited to make sure everyone gets a chance to participate). Also keep in mind we have hundreds of dogs signed up and cannot test them all each year. The good news is the center will be running problem solving games for many years to come so every dog should get many chances to participate. We look forward to meeting you and your dog!

Testing Sessions

Depending on the study each testing sessions takes around 45 mins to 1.5hrs. Once at the center dog owners will need to fill out a few forms while your pup gets acquainted with the facility before the games can begin. After the session, members of the research team will be happy to discuss your dog’s performance and answer any questions you may have.

Scheduling

Scheduling is flexible. We do our best to work with all parties involved to find a good time for each test session. Appointments are available on weekdays as well as weeknights and weekends.

Directors

Co-Director - Dr. Brian Hare

Brian Hare is an associate professor in Evolutionary Anthropology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (part of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences). He founded the Hominoid Psychology Research Group in 2004 after receiving the Sofia Kovalevskaja Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He and the Hominoid Psychology Research Group arrived at Duke in January 2008. In 2009 he started the Duke Canine Cognition Center which is dedicated to the study of dog psychology and the effect of domestication on cognition.

Research Scientist - Vanessa Woods

Vanessa looks after media inquiries for the Canine Cognition Center. She is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book The Genius of Dogs, and many other great works besides. Vanessa is also the booking agent for her very famous dog, Tassie, who has no particular skills other than finding food under cups.

 

Graduate Students and Postdocs

Aleah Bowie

Aleah is a post-doctoral student in the Hare Group. She is interested in how we can use our knowledge of human cognition and behavior to to improve biodiversity conservation efforts. Her research examines how our perceptions of risk, time, and social norms influence how we make decisions about conserving endangered species. Aleah is currently focusing on conservation of great apes in Central Africa, conducting comparative studies on these topics with three populations that have a stake in the future of Central Africa’s wildlife: the United States, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China. Aleah is ultimately interested in using results from these behavioral experiments to improve policy and communication about biodiversity conservation.

Wen Zhou

Wen is a doctoral student in the Hare Group, and she is broadly interested in irrational human behaviors. She investigates questions regarding the irrationality from perspectives of evolution and ontogeny. Currently, Wen is working on exploring stereotypes and dehumanization toward doctors.

Hannah Salomons

Hannah is a doctoral student in the Hare Group.  Before coming to Duke, she worked at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys.  Her interests include social cognition, conservation psychology and education, and animal welfare in research settings.

 

Senior Thesis Student

Leah Ramsaran

Leah is a senior thesis student who will be graduating in May 2019.  She is studying how play can be used to improve training outcomes for pet dogs.  After graduating, she intends to go to veterinary school.

 

Lab Managers

Madison Moore

madison.moore@duke.edu: Madison graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with a degree in Animal Behavior in 2019. As an undergraduate, Madison studied capuchin monkey cognition, focusing on their perception of femininity and masculinity in images of conspecific faces. She also interned at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center training scent detection, search and rescue, and cancer detection K9s. Madison is excited to work at the DCCC where she can learn more about the cognitive abilities of working dogs.

Morgan Ferrans 

morgan.ferrans@duke.edu: Morgan graduated from Duke in 2019 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Chemistry. During her undergraduate career, she completed a thesis project on how 14-month old infants learn emotion words using facial cues. In addition, she interned at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas and Triangle Veterinary Hospital, where she assisted veterinarians in emergency, specialty, and general practices. Morgan is looking forward to applying the same creative problem solving necessary for infant research to study cognitive development in animals at the DCCC. 

Maggie Bunzey

margaret.bunzey@duke.edu: Maggie graduated with a degree in Elementary Education, with a minor in Spanish and a concentration in Behavioral Studies, from UNCW in 2015. She worked as a teacher in Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools for 4 years and became incredibly interested in helping children work through their emotions through training in Conscious Discipline. As the Canine Cognition Center began collaborating with Duke Hospital’s Pediatric division, Maggie was hired to help facilitate that connection and bring her knowledge and work with children to the lab. 

 


Hare Lab Alumni

Post-Docs

Dr. Margaret Gruen ('16-'18)

Assistant Professor, NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. Margaret Gruen is a veterinarian, and board-certified in Veterinary Behavior through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. She have spent the past several years at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and recently completed her PhD in Comparative Biomedical Sciences with a project focused on quantifying and qualifying chronic pain in cats with naturally-occurring degenerative joint disease.  As co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, she studied dog cognition and people's perceptions of dogs.

Ph.D. Students

Dr. Christopher Krupenye (Class of '16)

Postdoctoral Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Chris researches developmental and comparative psychology with a special interest in the theory of mind in great apes and other primates.

Dr. Evan MacLean (Class of '12)

Assistant Professor at University of Arizona. Evan was also a former postdoctoral fellow and co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center.  He continues his work investigating what makes the human mind unique, and broader evolutionary questions regarding the proximate mechanisms and functional significance of cognition. 

Dr. Alexandra Rosati (Class of '12)

Assistant Professor at University of Michigan. Alex's research focuses on how ecology shapes behavioral strategies and psychological abilities in primates, including lemurs, chimpanzees and bonobos.

Lab Managers

Kyle Smith (Class of '16, Lab Manager '17-'19)

Graduate Student at the Pennsylvania State University with Drs. Doug Bird and Rebecca Bliege Bird. Kyle is interested in studying the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and the environment, especially related to the domestication of dingoes.

James Brooks (Class of '17, Lab Manager '17)

Graduate student at Kyoto University with Shinya Yamamoto. For his thesis, James used camera trap data from around North Carolina to study how coyote behavior changes in wild vs. suburban settings, and whether coyotes are in the process of self-domesticating. He continued working for the Hare Lab for a few months after graduating, and he is now in graduate school in Japan.

Ben Allen (Class of '16, Lab Manager '16-'17)

Law student at Vermont Law School. Ben worked with different adult dog populations as an undergraduate with the lab. For his thesis, titled "Comparison of temperament and social cognition in juvenile dogs and wolves", Ben studied the differences between dog and wolf puppies.  After graduating, Ben worked as the lab coordinator in the Hare Lab for one year before moving to D.C. to work with Population Connection and then attending law school.

Kerri Rodriguez (Class of '13, Lab Manager '13-'15)

Graduate Student at Purdue University. Kerri was one of the first and foremost experimentalists at the DCCC, developing and implementing our cognitive testing battery on dogs and captive wolves alike. Her research now focuses on the psychosocial effects of service dogs for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Kate Almon (Lab Manager '14-'15)

Guide Dogs for the Blind. Kate is now a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, applying her experiences and knowledge of dog cognition to help train wonderful service dogs.

Sophia Laderman (Lab Manager '13-'14)

Data Analyst for State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Sophie applied her background in psychology and marine science to cognition research with dogs. She worked with pet, military, and service dogs alike.

Rachna Reddy (Class of '12, Lab Manager '12-'13)

Graduate Student at University of Michigan with Dr. John Mitani. Rachna's research focuses on cognition and social relationships in primates, and she completed a senior thesis called, "Do red ruffed lemurs yawn contagiously?" She also worked with pet dogs who visited the DCCC for testing.

Alyxandra Reinhardt (Lab Manager '12-'14)

Veterinary Student at North Carolina State University. Alyx played an essential role in developing the Dog Cognition Test Battery while working with military, service, and pet dogs.

Judy Songrady (Lab Manager '12-'13)

Veterinary Student at Szent István University. In addition to helping with military and pet dog projects, Judy was interested in bonobos and great ape conservation.

Kara Leimberger (Class of '11, Lab Manager '12-'13)

Graduate Student at University of Texas at Austin with Dr. Rebecca Lewis. Her research interests broadly include cooperation, group coordination, and social cognition. Given that most primates face uncertain futures, she is also very involved with conservation and science outreach.

Thesis Students

Sam Honig (Class of '18)

Sam studied how service dogs can be used to make pediatric echocardiograms less distressing for children and what the effects are on the dogs. He is planning on going to medical school.

James Brooks (Class of '17)

Graduate student at Kyoto University with Shinya Yamamoto. For his thesis, James used camera trap data from around North Carolina to study how coyote behavior changes in wild vs. suburban settings, and whether coyotes are in the process of self-domesticating. He continued working for the Hare Lab for a few months after graduating, and he is now in graduate school in Japan.

Laura Lewis (Class of '16)

Graduate student at Harvard University with Alexandra Rosati. She is interested in understanding the evolution of human social cognition, with a particular interest in risk behavior adaptations that may have evolved in response to pressures from varying social environments.

Ben Allen (Class of '16)

Law student at Vermont Law School. Ben worked with different adult dog populations as an undergraduate with the lab. For his thesis, titled "Comparison of temperament and social cognition in juvenile dogs and wolves", Ben studied the differences between dog and wolf puppies.  After graduating, Ben worked as the lab coordinator in the Hare Lab for one year before moving to D.C. to work with Population Connection and then attending law school.

Emma Blumstein (Class of '14)

Emma spent two summers testing service dogs at Canine Compaions for Independence headquarters in Santa Rosa, CA. As a seinor thesis student, Emma continued her work with dogs through her project, "Attention deficits: The effects of a human face on canine transposition tasks."

Emily Bray (Class of '12)

Postdoctoral Scholar at University of Arizona with Dr. Evan MacLean. As a thesis student, Emily studied, "Context specificity of inhibitory control in dogs." She also studied the relationship between emotional arousal and inhibitory control in dogs by spending time with service and pet dogs.

Katie Patellos (Class of '11)

Veterinarian at Triangle Veterinary Referral Hospital. Katie's senior thesis project was titled, "Trust formation in domestic dogs: Effect of short term interaction on comprehension of communicative gestures."

Directions and Parking

The DCCC is located on Duke University's West Campus in the Biological Sciences Building in Durham, North Carolina.

Our address is 130 Science Drive, and we are in the subbasement (room 002A). Park in the Bryan Center Parking Garage for easiest access.

(919) 613-6976 • dukedogcognition@gmail.com

Related Research Groups and Collaborators

Arizona Canine Cognition Center (Dr. Evan MacLean)
http://dogs.arizona.edu/

Yale University Canine Cognition Center (Dr. Laurie Santos)
http://doglab.yale.edu/

Wildlife Science Center, Stacy, MN (Peggy Callahan)
http://www.wildlifesciencecenter.org/

The Family Dog Project, Eotvos Lorand University, Hungary.  (Dr. Adam Miklosi, Dr. Marta Gacsi, Dr. Eniko Kubinyi, Dr. Gabriella Lakotos, and Dr. Peter Pongracz)
http://familydogproject.elte.hu/research.html

Department of Comparative and Developmental Psychology @ the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Dr. Mike Tomasello, Dr. Josep Call and Dr. Julianne Kaminski)
www.eva.mpg.de/psycho/index.php

Evolutionary Genetics @ the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Dr. Svante Paabo)
www.eva.mpg.de/genetics/

Clever Dog Lab @ University of Wien, Austria
http://www.cleverdoglab.at/index.php?id=3&L=1

Wolf Science Center @ University of Wien, Austria (Dr. Friederike Range, Dr. Kurt Kotschal, and Dr. Zsofia Viranyi)
http://www.wolfscience.at/english/#

Canine Cognition Laboratory, University of Florida (Dr. Clive Wynne)
http://grove.ufl.edu/~behproc/

Center for the interaction of animals and society, U of Penn. (Dr. James Serpell)
http://www.vet.upenn.edu/FacultyandDepartments/Faculty/tabid/362

The Hood Dog Study @ Hood College
http://sites.google.com/site/hooddogstudy/Home

Top Journals Publishing Research on Dog Cognition

Animal Behavior Society

Animal Behaviour

Animal Cognition

Journal of Comparative Psychology