Saturday, 18 September 2021
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How does your dog’s brain work? A UNL research lab aims to find out

Dog lovers can learn more about their prized pet’s behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s new canine research lab.

The Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab is a research program created by Jeffrey Stevens, associate professor of psychology. It focuses on two areas: dog cognition/psychology and dog-human interaction. Dog owners will be able to enroll their pet in the program to have its behavior, cognition and decision-making studied.

“I’m very interested in a dog’s patience, and if can they control temptations that they face,” Stevens said. “Once we figure it out, we can train and develop some techniques that help dogs behave better.”

Stevens came up with the idea to open the lab when he was on sabbatical in Austria and visiting a colleague at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. The university had its own behavioral dog lab, and Stevens decided that he would like to create something similar in Nebraska.

He talked with university leaders and began the planning process for the research lab in October. Now the lab is receiving its finishing touches, like a potty-proof floor and cameras for its first round of studies during the fall semester.

The cameras are set up inside of the research lab, which is located in the basement of the 501 Building on Stadium Drive. Screens from the camera feed are installed in a reception area outside of the lab, so dog owners can observe their pets as research takes place.

Data from the cognition side of the program will be helpful in training working or police dogs. Other research will show the impact dogs have on human behavior, like stress.

“We’re excited and very interested in researching about everyone’s dogs, just to learn as much as we can,” said Elise Thayer, a UNL graduate student working in the program. “We are not done formulating all of our ideas, but come late September, the lab will be fully functional.”

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The lab debuted at the inaugural Husker DogFest on Saturday, an event that invited dog owners to come to learn about the program. Public interest skyrocketed after the event, Stevens said.

About 150 local dogs have already been enrolled in the program and another 100 owners have expressed interest. There isn’t an applicant limit, so anyone can enroll their canine at the cognition lab’s page on the UNL website.

“The university has been extremely supportive for this; they really got behind me, invested in it and helped me out,” Stevens said. “I’m super excited to see how enthusiastic (everyone is) about the lab. A lot of folks are happy to try to understand aspects of their dogs.”

Husker DogFest


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