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Australia’s first dedicated dog behaviour and cognition laboratory

Questions that have dogged humans for decades about the behaviour of their canine companions could soon be answered in Bendigo. Australia’s first dedicated dog behaviour and cognition laboratory has opened at Latrobe University, Bendigo.

The lab will allow the university’s researchers to advance the world’s knowledge of man’s best friend. They are already hot on the scent of discovering what makes dogs ticks and how they interact with their owners.

Associate Professor Pauleen Bennett, who heads up the lab, said researches were keen to either prove or dispel a full bowl of myths about dogs, including are they really colour blind? Do they see optical illusions? And do they see the same things as humans when watching TV?

“I’m interested in knowing why dogs and humans have such a special relationship,” she said. “Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years and we seem to have evolved particular skills in terms of interacting with them and they have evolved different skills in terms of interacting with us. They can understand human ways better than any other animal on earth and that makes that special. We are designed to have dogs in our lives and understanding how that works is important in improving not only animal welfare, but human welfare.”

The first project underway will Test Dogs’ Visual Processing.
Psychology and counselling research officer Tiffani Howell said to determine this, the lab was adapting a technique commonly used on human babies to test reflective eye movement. Dogs will be presented with images of moving vertical bars to determine if they follow them with the same involuntary eye movement as humans.

“As the bars move closer, we see them as one dark blur and involuntary eye movement stops,”she said. “We will be testing if dogs experience the same. This is one way to test if dogs can see things as clearly as we can see them.”

The lab has excited overseas interest, with a group of a PhD students travelling to Bendigo to be involved. Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere, a University of Michigan graduate, said she was relishing the opportunity to be part of a groundbreaking program.

“Pauleen is relatively well-known in the dog field and she has been doing some really cool dog research,” she said. “My aim is to figure out what these (animals) are visually perceiving and how they view the world.”

Professor Bennett and Dr Howell said the Bendigo community would be crucial to the lab, with canine volunteers being sought for current and future research.

“The sort of testing we do is always fun, it’s never difficult, painful or harmful to the dog,”Dr Howell said. “The owners enjoy seeing what their dogs are capable of and they get to say they helped advance knowledge of dog behaviour and dog cognitive processing.”

To add your dog’s paws to the list, email
Source: (Photos Darren Howe)