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13 November 2013, 07:39
The University of Portsmouth is leading a study to find out just how clever man's best friend really is.
Dog owners are being urged to take their pets to a unique laboratory, which the University says is Britain's first dedicated to studying dogs.
Scientists at the Dog Cognition Centre will test dogs with games and tasks to discover more about how they interact with their environment, other dogs, and humans.
The findings will help people who work with and rely on dogs, such as the blind and disabled, as well as the police and military, say the researchers.
Owners will also be helped to understand their pets a little better.
Dog facial expressions and human-dog communication are two of the topics to be investigated by the scientists, from the University of Portsmouth's department of psychology.
The centre is headed by dog intelligence expert Dr Juliane Kaminski, who has studied dog cognition for more than a decade. She said:
"Research has shown us that dogs have some understanding of their world and are flexible problem solvers. Some of their abilities equal those of young children.
"We know dogs are sensitive to humans and that they understand our communication cues, such as pointing and looking at something, for example, in a way even our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, or dogs' closest living relative, the wolf, can't.
"The minds of dogs are complex, but more research is needed to identify what mechanisms are controlling their behaviour and how much they really understand versus how much we think they understand.''
Dogs have been living with humans for 15,000 years but scientists have only recently started studying their behaviour seriously.
In the past two decades, experts have begun to learn more about how and why dogs have successfully become the closest animal companions to humans.
Dogs of any gender, age or breed can take part in the studies. The tests are purely observational and involve rewarding dogs with food or play, the scientists point out.
Owners can apply to have their pets included in the research at www.port.ac.uk/dogcognition.