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Conference on Comparative Cognition (Co3)
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA


Applying canine research to K9 practices:
What do K9 handlers and trainers want to know?

Burrows*, Sundby, Glover, & Kuhlmeier

*Kuczaj Memorial Travel Grant recipient (Learn more about Dr. Stan Kuczaj here)

Given dogs’ unique place in human society, there is the potential for relatively direct, practical applications of comparative cognition research. Despite this--but with notable exceptions--there is often a disconnect between research and practice. In the present study, we used a public scholarship framework to help bridge this gap, developing a 32-item survey for professional dog handlers/trainers in policing and military.

459 participants indicated which research topics would be particularly relevant to their work, how open their field is to new scientific findings, and where they are likely to look for these findings. Among many topics labelled “important” by respondents, odor learning processes and attention to human behavioral cues received high ratings. Further, thematic analysis identified that participants felt there was limited access to current research, emphasizing the need for improved communication channels that could enhance evidence-based training practices and, in turn, dog and handler welfare.

This study provides evidence of the value of public engagement for research in comparative cognition, particularly engagement that includes the co-creation of research questions.


Ostensive behavior by humans is associated with increased attention from dogs, but not increased point-following
Glover, Sundby, Burrows, Philips, Espinosa, & Kuhlmeier


The ManyDogs Project recently found no evidence to support the claim that dogs follow human points (contralateral, momentary) more often when pointing is preceded by ostensive behaviors (e.g., calling the dog’s name, making eye contact) than when pointing is preceded by non-ostensive behaviors (e.g., a light cough, no eye contact; ManyDogs Project et al., 2023).  However, it remained unclear whether the human’s ostensive behavior altered the dogs’ behavior in any other way.


In this subsample of 39 dogs from the larger ManyDogs study, we examined (1) whether dogs’ head orientation was directed to the human pointer more often when ostensive signaling occurred, and (2) whether the proportion of this orientation toward the pointer was associated with dogs’ point-following performance. Using a series of generalized linear mixed models, we found greater orientation toward the pointer when ostensive signaling was present, but this increased attention toward the pointer did not yield higher accuracy in dogs’ point-following responses. These findings suggest that using a dog’s name and making eye contact may increase dogs’ attention to humans, yet these ostensive cues are separable from the interpretation of points as informative.

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