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UBC researchers seek participating dogs with an open mind

Researchers at the newly opened Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at the University of British Columbia are looking for four-legged participants. The goal: to understand the mind of canines, including what makes them happy

Researchers from BC’s largest university are targeting tap dog owners in a study that seeks to reveal what canines are capable of.

This is the first time that the University of British Columbia (UBC) has invited the public to bring their four-legged friends to the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory, which opened its doors on Tuesday.

Canines are thought to have been living alongside humans for tens of thousands of years, and in that time have developed remarkably strong habits of looking at their handlers for various social cues, said Alexandra Protopopova, director of the lab and an assistant professor. in Animal Welfare from UBC. Program in the faculty of land and food systems.

“People definitely know that dogs pay attention to us. But I think they really underestimate how much,” she said. “We are going to ask the dogs themselves questions. We really want to know how they respond regardless of the person.”

UBC animal welfare researcher Alexandra Protopopova interacts with students. via Alexandra Protopopova

Protopopova and her colleagues will ask those “questions” through a series of games and cognitive puzzles, often involving food.

The researchers hope to find out how receptive dogs are to learning new rules of a game and how mood affects their ability to navigate their environment.

As Protopopova said: “Just from the dog’s perspective, how do they see the world?”

What should dog owners expect?

The newly opened UBC lab was recently renovated and now includes specialized flooring, 360-degree cameras and two-way mirrors for canine viewing.

The experiments will never last more than an hour and the researcher says that at no time will they seek to alter the human-animal bond.

Instead, dog owners will remain with their pets at all times as they move around the lab.

Some lucky dogs will be offered a plethora of toys, games, and treats to see how mood affects their cognitive abilities. Others will stay in a reference environment. Protopopova, who is also a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, has spent her career researching domestic animals, including how to adapt pets to a changing climate.

UBC Dog Lab 2
UBC’s new Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory includes two-way mirrors to watch dogs as they go through various non-invasive cognitive experiments. Lexis Ly/UBC

Protopopova said that dogs will never be subjected to awkward situations.

“We are never going to add any negative experiences for dogs,” he said. “We take it very, very seriously.”

In the future, research on canine cognition is intended to help improve the operations of animal shelters, as well as provide information to pet owners.

If all goes according to plan, Protopopova and her colleagues hope to understand what creates a good mood in dogs, why a good mood can be helpful, and how best animal handlers can ask dogs if they agree. good humor.

The studies will also look at the use of trained therapy dogs and how the educational relationship between children and dogs can be made more comfortable for all involved.

What kind of dogs are you looking for?

Protopopova said all breeds and sizes of dogs can apply to participate in the study, as long as the canines are vaccinated and comfortable in new environments and novel situations.

The researchers will constantly monitor the dogs for signs of discomfort, and if a dog stops participating in a game, it will take a break.

Because the UBC team will be conducting a series of non-invasive experiments, some participants will be asked to come for one session and others will be invited back for multiple lab visits.

As the research progresses, Protopopova said they’ll be asking owners of specific dog breeds to join the experiments to understand how that might affect canine cognition.

All dogs participating in the study will receive a certificate of participation and a photo wearing a “dog graduation cap and sash, if desired.”

“We want to make sure this is really fun,” he said.

Dog owners interested in participating in research at the UBC Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory are asked to complete a questionnaire.

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