01995: Understanding the Flexibility and Limitations of How Dogs Acquire Knowledge and Understanding: Application to Service Dog Emotional Health and Selection

Grant Status: Closed

Grant Amount: $97,809
Evan L. MacLean, PhD; Duke University
January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2015

Sponsor(s): American Shetland Sheepdog Association, Collie Health Foundation, Finnish Lapphund Club of America, Inc., Health and Rescue Foundation of the PBGV Club of America, Hoffman Miniature Schnauzer Donor Advised Fund, Laura J. Niles Foundation, Inc., Orthopedic Foundation for Animals

Breed(s): -All Dogs
Research Program Area: Behavior
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Dogs are being used to help people with mental and physical disabilities in more ways than ever before. There is increasing evidence that trained dogs can dramatically improve the lives of people with a wide variety of disabilities, and the demand for these dogs climbs higher each year. The biggest challenge faced is increasing the supply of well-trained dogs to serve individuals who will benefit from their help, while at the same time ensuring the reciprocal emotional health of the dogs chosen for service. The research aims of Dr. MacLean and his colleagues are to increase the supply of these dogs by improving our ability to identify and train dogs with the greatest potential for success. The Duke Canine Cognition Center and Canine Companions for Independence will work together to identify cognitive traits that predict success during assistance dog training. They will pose the question: Do a dog's communicative abilities, memory, empathy for humans, or ability to independently solve problems predict success? For the first time, a series of cognitive games will be used to determine which dogs have the cognitive abilities that best predict their abilities to help humans. With this new tool they will be able to more rapidly identify and train the best dogs in order to increase the number of people assisted by our best friends. This research will ensure that we begin to take the steps to understand canine emotional health and well-being in the service dog selection process and beyond.


Bray, E. E., MacLean, E. L., & Hare, B. A. (2015). Increasing arousal enhances inhibitory control in calm but not excitable dogs. Animal Cognition, 18(6), 1317–1329. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0901-1

MacLean, E. L., & Hare, B. (2018). Enhanced Selection of Assistance and Explosive Detection Dogs Using Cognitive Measures. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00236

MacLean, E. L., Herrmann, E., Suchindran, S., & Hare, B. (2017). Individual differences in cooperative communicative skills are more similar between dogs and humans than chimpanzees. Animal Behaviour, 126, 41–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.01.005

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