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Ivy League Study on How Dogs Think

Harvard recruits dogs for its Canine Cognition Lab.
By JoAnna Lou, April 2009, Updated June 2021

What pet lover doesn’t attribute human-like abilities to their dogs? I try to avoid anthromorphizing, but when you live with someone-- human or canine--you can’t help but speculate on what drives their behavior and decision-making.

Scientists have spent decades studying exotic animals, such as dolphins and gorillas, while dogs have been largely neglected. I’m even guilty, having studied the effects of behavioral enrichment on parrots at the Bronx Zoo during my academic years. Most of what we know about dogs is anecdotal, but that is about to change with the foundation of the Canine Cognition Lab at Harvard University.

Founded by Marc Hauser, a psychology professor and longtime monkey cognition researcher, the lab will be exploring emotions, such as loyalty and guilt, as well as concepts like pointing and associating pictures with objects. All of the experiments are non-invasive and use positive reinforcement.

Findings will be posted on the web site as research and analysis is completed. In the meantime, the Canine Cognition Lab is still accepting applications for dogs in the Boston, Mass., area. 


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While I live too far to participate in the study, there are emotions I’m convinced my pets display, such as jealousy. Does your dog exhibit any behavior that you hope will be studied at the lab?

For more information, check out the Boston Globe's video on the Canine Cognition Lab:

 Image: Shutterstock

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.