About Our Dog Lab

"Barnard Dog Cognition Lab"Image by Melissa Moy

Welcome to the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab! Our group is led by Professor Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know and professor at Barnard College.

Our group studies the behavior and cognition of the domestic dog, Canis Familiaris. We observe companion dogs in their natural environments, and we recruit dogs and owners to participate in fun and interesting studies across the city.

Previous research has included the empirical research of anthropomorphisms, the use of attention and play signals in social play, dog-human play strategies, and intra-canid vocalizations.

Our studies investigate the dog’s perspective, and we would love for you to participate!

To join us, fill out our participation form, visit our website or send us an e-mail at dogcognitionstudy@gmail.com.

We look forward to meeting your dog!


Hiatus from WordPress & where you can find us!

While the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab is highly active (just check out our Facebook page!) we’re taking a hiatus from blogging in this WordPress forum. In the meantime, here’s how you can stay in touch:

  • Facebook: Follow our treat-based studies where we investigate the dog’s perspective
  • Website: Learn more about our group and follow our work
  • Psychology Today: Follow Dr. Alexandra Horowitz’s blog
  • Inside of a Dog: Dr. Alexandra Horowitz’s acclaimed book (52 weeks as a New York Times bestseller! That’s a lot of weeks!)
  • Dog Spies: Lab Manager Julie Hecht’s blog on the science behind the dog-human relationship
  • Do You Believe in dog?: Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb’s pen pal blog covering all things dog science

And don’t forget… do you live in NYC with a dog? Join our treat-based behavior studies! Email dogcognitionstudy@gmail.com or complete our online registration form.


The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab

Join the Dog Cognition Lab’s New Study! Spring 2012!

What the nose knowshttp://onlypencil.hubpages.com/hub/Drawing-Dog-Nose

(Help us find out!)

Ever wonder how your dog experiences the world? Join the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College in NYC and help us learn more about dog behavior. Our group is supervised by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. We are looking for companion dogs and owners to participate in a study about the extent of the dogʼs sense of smell.


~ Join our Scent Study ~

Study held at Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street, New York, NY

~ Study Dates and Times ~

Sign up for a 30-minute time slot

Sunday, April 15 from 11-2 pm

Sunday, April 22 from 11-5:30 pm

Sunday, April 29 from 11-5:30 pm

Please email us with your availability on one or more dates and we will reserve your spot.

~ Dog Requirements to Participate ~

Enjoys treats and has no food allergies

Comfortable with people and dogs

Please do not feed your dog for 3 hours before the study

Contact us to learn more and sign up DogCognitionStudy@gmail.com We look forward to meeting you and your dog!

~ Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab ~

Live with two or more dogs? We need you!

Do you live with two or more dogs? We need you!

Live in the New York City area? The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab is looking for dogs from multi-dog households to join our ongoing study. This is a treat-based, behavioral study where dogs are exposed to “fair” and “unfair” trainers. We are interested in what dogs do when faced with these different trainers!

Join Us:
Date: Sunday, October 23
Study Duration: 15 minutes
Time Slots: Between 1:00 and 5:00 PM
Location: Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street (SoHo, NYC)
Participants receive a “doggie bag” of yummy treats

Dog Requirements to Participate: Lives in multi-dog household; enjoys treats and has no food allergies; comfortable with other dogs and people; will “sit” for a treat

To learn more or sign up, contact dogcognitionstudy@gmail.com

For this particular study, we require that two or more dogs presently reside in your household. You do not have to bring more than one dog to participate, although you are more than welcome to!

If you are unable to attend but are interested in joining future studies with different entrance criteria, please contact us!

Sign up to join a future study!

Visit our Website

Investigating canine research: Are our dogs spying on us?

Social eavesdropping in the domestic dog
Animal Behaviour (2011) 81, 1177-1183
S. Marshall-Pescini, C. Passalacqua, A. Ferrario, P. Valsecchi, E. Prato-Previde

What could they be taking in? Image by Maggie Smith

Study Objectives: 
Humans learn information about one another through social eavesdropping — we gather information by observing interactions between other people. If I see that a particular ice cream scooper is giving out bigger scoops than the others, I will definitely situate myself to get served by the big scooper!

Researchers wondered if dogs take part in social eavesdropping as well.

In the study Social eavesdropping in the domestic dog researchers asked if dogs could distinguish between generous and selfish human food-sharers by observing third-party interactions.

Experimental Design:
In this study, dogs watched as a human beggar approached people (donors) who either acted selfishly or generously. The donors were seated across from one another and each held a bowl with one compartment containing strong smelling sausage and another compartment containing cereal. A human beggar approached the donors and begged for food. Dogs watched as the generous donor gave food to the human beggar whereas the selfish donor refused.

Schematic depiction of the experimental set-up. Marshall-Pescini paper

Then the dogs were tested. The selfish and generous donors sat across from one another, and the dog was allowed to approach either donor. The researchers observed which human donor the dog approached.

As part of the study, the researchers investigated which types of human communicative cues dogs might be attending to in third-party interactions. Some dogs saw the donors just using gestures to communicate their generous or selfish nature; other dogs were exposed to donors just using their voice and other dogs saw both visual and verbal cues together.

The study also exposed a group of dogs to a “ghost scenario”. The dogs in this group saw donors playing the generous or selfish roles but no human beggar was present! Instead, the selfish donor would say, “No” and gesture for an imaginary person to go away, and the generous donor would say, “Take it” and offer the imaginary person the treat. The “ghost scenario” tested whether dogs were simply reacting to the tone and gestures of the donors as opposed to the third-party interaction itself.

Main findings:
Dogs preferred the generous donor; they spent more time looking at her and interacting with her. Dogs also appeared to rely more on donors’ vocal cues as opposed to their gestural cues.

In support of these findings, dogs in the “ghost” group showed no significant preference for the generous or selfish donor. This suggests the dogs were not responding to a preference for or avoidance of a donor based on her behavior (i.e., nice voice and gestures vs. harsh voice and gestures). Instead, dogs were attending to the interaction between the beggar and the donors.

Researchers concluded that dogs were using information from third-party interactions.

PS: Watch a video clip of the experimenter!

Study summary provided by:
Emily Cherenack
Barnard  2012

Orellana del Fierro
Barnard 2011

Investigating canine research: Rational vs Irrational acts — Can dogs tell the difference?

Do dogs distinguish rational from irrational acts?
Animal Behaviour (2011) 81, 195-203
Juliane Kaminski, Marie Nitzschner, Victoria Wobber, Claudio Tennie, Juliane Bräuer, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello

A dog holds a ball in its mouth while operating a food-dispensing apparatus with its paw

Study Objectives: This study contributed to the body of work investigating whether dogs can distinguish rational from irrational acts. The main factor that distinguishes a rational from an irrational behavior is the efficiency of the action, given the constraints of a particular situation.

For example, in an experiment examining if children distinguish rational from irrational acts, an adult turns on a lamp with his forehead twice — on one occasion, a blanket covers his shoulders so as to appear that his hands are unavailable (making the choice to use his forehead rational); on another occasion, his hands are free yet he still uses his forehead to turn on the lamp (making his behavior irrational).

When asked to turn on the lamp themselves, children who saw the adult with his hands covered still used their hands, suggesting that they understood that the adult acted rationally and so they should as well. Yet when the children saw the adult use his forehead when his hands were clearly free, children weren’t sure of the rationality of his act and relied on imitation.

Experimental Design: The present study used two experiments to examine how dogs behave when exposed to rational and irrational acts. In the first experiment, a trained demonstrator dog showed observer dogs how to operate a food-dispensing apparatus. The apparatus could be operated with either the mouth or the paw, and using the mouth was found to be dogs’ preferred method (as that’s what dogs used when witnessing no demonstration).

In the experiment, the demonstrator dog used its paw to operate the apparatus (1) while it had a ball in its mouth (a rational act), (2) while it did not have a ball in its mouth (an irrational act) and (3) while the ball was present (hanging from the apparatus) but not in the dog’s mouth. The ‘ball present but not in mouth’ condition assessed whether the mere presence of a ball would affect the observer’s behavior (i.e. simply seeing the ball would suggest to the observer dog to use the mouth).

Experimenters wanted to see what observer dogs did when exposed to these different demonstrations. Would observer dogs attend to the rationality of the demonstrator dog’s actions?

In the second experiment, a human used her leg to gesture to one of two boxes that might contain food. In the first condition, she used her leg to gesture while books were in her hands (making the leg gesture rational). In the second condition, she used her leg when her hands were free (making the gesture irrational, possibly interpreted by the dogs as random). The purpose of this experiment was to see if dogs discriminated between rational and irrational communication. If dogs attend to rationality in this context, they would perform better when the cue was rational because the irrational cue might represent a human’s random movement as opposed to a deliberate signal.

Main Findings: In the first experiment, the mere presence of the ball appeared to have a strong effect on observer dog behavior. Seeing a ball led to observer dogs using their mouths more, irrespective of whether the ball was in the demonstrator’s mouth or hanging from the apparatus. The findings from the second experiment suggested that dogs used the leg gesture as a visual cue to find the hidden food regardless of whether the context was rational or irrational. Both experiments in this study provided no conclusive evidence that dogs distinguish rational from irrational acts.

Study summary provided by:
Adam Chapman
Columbia University 2011

Jennifer Oh
Barnard College 2011

Ilana Yablonowich
Barnard College 2012

Investigating canine research: When it comes to emotions, learn from a dog!

Learning emotion recognition from canines? Two for the road
Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2011) 6, 108-114
Birgit U. Stetina, Karoline Turner, Eva Burger, Lisa M. Glenk, Julia C. McElheney, Ursula Handlos, Oswald D. Kothgassner

Study Objectives: This study examined whether participating in an animal-assisted training program with a dog led to an increase in participants’ ability to recognize emotion in human faces. If so, such animal-based programs could help people improve upon their interpersonal emotional recognition skills.

Bright Lights: Dog Days of Summer with Sadie Program

Experimental Design: An experimental group of adults and children underwent weekly 60 minute animal-assisted training sessions for 12 weeks with a trained dog. The children interacted with a male German Shepherd/Labrador named Nikolaus, and the adults interacted with a male Labrador Retriever named Yukon. Both dogs were experienced interacting with people. A control group of children and adults participated in the study and received no animal-assisted training.

The animal-assisted training sessions consisted of guided observation of the dog’s behaviors and feelings, and participants gained knowledge of dog emotional and social competencies.

Before and after the intervention program, participants took a computer-based human emotional recognition test called the Vienna Emotion Recognition Tasks (VERT-K). This test presents pictures of human facial expressions, both emotional and neutral, and participants label the expressions. The VERT-K includes human expressions of anger, disgust, fear, joy, grief and neutral. Members of the control group also took the VERT-K two times at 12-weeks apart but they did not participate in the animal-assisted training program.

Main Findings: After participating in an animal-assisted training program, both children and adults better identified the expressions of fear and anger in human faces. The study concluded that animal-assisted training programs, where humans gain experience identifying emotions in dogs, could contribute to humans’ emotional recognition in other people.

Study summary provided by:
Meredith Leeman
Barnard College 2012

Rebecca Johnson
Barnard College 2013

What is canine research?

Some researchers investigate play behavior (Image: Hecht)

Our Dog Lab studies the behavior and cognition of the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. We design and conduct studies that aim to reveal the dog’s perspective!

And we are not alone. Research groups across the globe investigate canids, and each group has its own interests and unique research questions.

People often wonder about the kinds of studies that are conducted in this field. The Research Assistants here at the Horowitz Dog Lab — students from Barnard College and Columbia University — are engaged in an article review project. After reading recently published scientific studies, they extract the main points and share them with you!

Our next few posts will share recently published research.


~ Julie Hecht, Lab Manager