Dog Lab investigates fairness in dogs

Jack having fun with the Dog Lab at Animal Haven

Last week, our Dog Cognition Lab met at Animal Haven to continue a study investigating a dog’s concept of fairness. We were lucky enough to be joined by 10 wonderful dogs and their gracious owners.

Attributing a sense of fairness to dogs is common among dog owners: “My dog will pitch a fit if I pay too much attention to another dog in front of her.” Or, “My dog will sometimes act out if he thinks he’s being treated unfairly.” The implication is, of course, that dogs have an understanding of how they are treated in comparison to others, and owners often believe dogs want to be treated fairly.

We are exploring whether dogs have an aversion to an unfair situation, just as humans do. A few years back, researchers examined the topic of inequity in dogs (Range et al., 2009), prompting our Dog Lab to continue this exploration.

Our study relies on the participation of companion dogs and their owners. In the study, trainers reward dog behavior with differing amounts of treats. Our control dog is the wonderful Finnegan, Professor Horowitz’s dog, and the subject dog could be your dog! In the study, both dogs approach a trainer and are asked to sit. When both dogs receive the same number of treats for sitting, the trainer is considered “fair”, and when the dogs receive a different number of treats, the trainer is considered “unfair.” The subject dog (your dog) always receives the same number of treats. But sometimes Finnegan, the control dog, is treated differently, either receiving three treats from an over rewarding trainer or zero treats from an under rewarding trainer.

Then comes the fun part! The subject dog (your dog) gets to run loose and freely choose the trainer that he or she prefers (as defined by who the dog approaches). Which trainer will the dogs approach?

For dogs, our studies involve getting treats and meeting new people! Would you like your dog to be part of the Dog Lab’s research? If so, simply sign up online or send an e-mail to We we will gladly let you know when we have a study going on near you.

Check out some photos from our day at Animal Haven!


What’s happening at the Dog Cognition Lab? DogTime magazine finds out!

Leslie Smith, editor of DogTime magazine, find out that scientific inquiry into dog cognition offers new insights into the dog’s perspective!

DogTime and Dr. Horowitz discuss what’s new at the Dog Cognition Lab. Enjoy the article!

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

We look forward to meeting your dog!

Participate in Our Current Research

Ever wonder what your dog is thinking? Here is your chance to help the scientific community gain insight into your dog’s mind. Come join our next study!

Date: Friday, June 3

Study Duration: 15 Minutes

Time: Time Slots between 4 and 6:30 pm

Location: Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street

(in Soho near Canal Street subway stop)

Requirements: Dog is friendly and comfortable around other dogs and people. No allergies, and enjoys treats.

Participants will receive a “doggy-bag” of yummy treats to take home!

Sign up online!

You can also contact with your dog’s name, age, and a good phone number or e-mail and we will contact you.

If you are unable to attend June 3rd, please e-mail or sign up online. We will have other dates and venues available throughout New York City coming soon.

We look forward to hearing from you and your dog!


Site maintenance: Emily Cherenack and Julie Hecht, MSc (Dog Spies website and Blog)
Blog contributors
: The research assistants of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab
Lab Manager
: Julie Hecht
Research Assistants: Adam Chapman, Emily Cherenack, Orellana del Fierro, Rebecca Johnson, Meredith Leeman, Jennifer Oh, Ilana Yablonowich
Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab Logo: Melissa Moy