Posts Tagged ‘canines’

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

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!