Handsome Dan makes his first visit to the reopened Canine Cognition Center
Laurie Santos welcomes Handsome Dan XIX to the Canine Cognition Center, which is currently seeking additional canine research participants.
Courtesy of Jack Delvin
Special guest Beau Dan XIX and other University officials gathered at the Canine Cognition Center, or CCC, to mark its official reopening.
The center, led by psychology professor Laurie Santos, studies the brains of dogs to improve dog training and well-being and to understand what makes the human brain unique. Although the lab has been closed for the past 18 months due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is continuing a number of research projects this year. Members of the Yale community who are on the University’s COVID-19 vaccination program are encouraged to register their dogs to participate in tests and follow Handsome Dan’s paw prints.
“The puzzles involved treats, so I’m not surprised [Handsome Dan] did well, ”Kassandra Haro ’18, manager of Handsome Dan, wrote in an email to News. “He tends to show up when there’s food involved. Kingman loves Dr. Santos. He loves the attention, so he was home at the CCC with all the researchers giving him pets, belly massages and treats.
Although Handsome Dan was not involved in any studies on his first visit to the Center for Canine Cognition, he solved a number of puzzles and became familiar with the center, staff and their research practices.
Emily Richards ’20, the head of the lab, noted that the center is particularly excited for Handsome Dan to participate in his foraging studies.
“Kingman is very motivated by the food and was really excited about the testing setup,” Santos wrote in an email to The News. “In this way he did even better than the previous Beau Dan, Walter, who [we] was lucky to meet in the lab when he was also a puppy.
Yale’s transition to online courses in March 2020 posed a unique set of challenges for the Canine Cognition Center.
Since human handlers of the dogs were not allowed in the lab due to pandemic restrictions, the lab switched to an online system and conducted a number of studies on Zoom. Santos explained that these Zoom studies were less “interactive”.
In addition to allowing less interaction between researchers and canine subjects, Richards described additional challenges in terms of sources of error that could arise from Zoom studies.
“Those [Zoom studies] not only limit the types of studies we do, but also limit how we analyze and understand our findings, because experimenters (i.e. dog keepers) and test conditions in the environment Each dog’s household vary a lot more than they would at the center, “Richards wrote in an email to News.
The lab’s online transition, however, allowed CCC researchers to catch up on data analyzes from previous years and focus on current literature in the field. They revisited previous studies and produced “some really interesting and unexpected results,” according to Richards.
Currently, the lab is studying how dogs can represent and categorize human spirits, according to Santos. One study examines how dogs can represent numbers, while another explores whether dogs can distinguish “nice and bad agents.”
To be able to participate in the centre’s studies, dogs must be vaccinated and in good health, with no history of aggression. Due to Yale’s current COVID-19 restrictions, only University students, faculty and staff can visit the center or bring their dogs for testing. However, anyone interested in their dog participating in CKC research can register, regardless of their affiliation with Yale. The center will be in touch once it can accommodate dogs and handlers not affiliated with the University at the lab.
The Canine Cognition Center opened in December 2013.