Citizen science as a new tool in dog cognition research

Laughlin Stewart, Evan L. Maclean, David Ivy, Vanessa Woods, Eliot Cohen, Kerri Rodriguez, Matthew McIntyre, Sayan Mukherjee, Josep Call, Juliane Kaminski, Ádám Miklósi, Richard W. Wrangham, Brian Hare

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Family dogs and dog owners offer a potentially powerful way to conduct citizen science to answer questions about animal behavior that are difficult to answer with more conventional approaches. Here we evaluate the quality of the first data on dog cognition collected by citizen scientists using the website. We conducted analyses to understand if data generated by over 500 citizen scientists replicates internally and in comparison to previously published findings. Half of participants participated for free while the other half paid for access. The website provided each participant a temperament questionnaire and instructions on how to conduct a series of ten cognitive tests. Participation required internet access, a dog and some common household items. Participants could record their responses on any PC, tablet or smartphone from anywhere in the world and data were retained on servers. Results from citizen scientists and their dogs replicated a number of previously described phenomena from conventional lab-based research. There was little evidence that citizen scientists manipulated their results. To illustrate the potential uses of relatively large samples of citizen science data, we then used factor analysis to examine individual differences across the cognitive tasks. The data were best explained by multiple factors in support of the hypothesis that nonhumans, including dogs, can evolve multiple cognitive domains that vary independently. This analysis suggests that in the future, citizen scientists will generate useful datasets that test hypotheses and answer questions as a complement to conventional laboratory techniques used to study dog psychology.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0135176
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2015


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