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Unwilling or unable? Dogs see the difference. 

For a long time, behavioural researchers have been asking whether dogs can read human thoughts. Previous research has not yielded any clear results. The Clever Dog Lab of the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna has now taken a new approach. The researchers chose an experiment that is normally used for human babies, examined the dogs' behaviour with 3D tracking - and found out that the four-legged friends can distinguish human intentions.

Original publication

Are dogs sensitive to human mental states?

A new CDL study provides new insights on dogs’ perspective-taking abilities. In the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Lonardo et al. 2021) dogs reacted differently in response to human informants holding true and false beliefs about the location of a treat. This finding, along with our previous research, raises the intriguing possibility that dogs share our ability to represent others’ minds (perspective taking, Theory of Mind).


What do dogs feel when their caregiver shows affection to other dogs?

Dogs excel at reading the body language, behaviour and communicative signals of humans. But how do they interpret their caregivers’ behaviour towards others, particularly towards other dogs? A recent CDL study in collaboration with the SCAN Unit of the University of Vienna used functional magnetic resonance imaging to show for the first time what goes on in the dogs’ brain when they watched their caregiver greeting another dog (Karl et al. 2021 Cerebral Cortex Communications). The study was conducted at the co-founded Comparative Canine Neuroimaging Unit.

ManyDogs, a new international research collaboration, officially launched

In the ManyDogs initiative, we work together with canine cognition researchers from all around the world with the aim to foster collaboration and open science practices and to draw more robust conclusions about dogs’ cognitive abilities, including their variability across individuals and breeds. We are currently running our first study, ManyDogs 1 (Espinosa et al. 2021 PsyArXiv), on dog-human social communication. The aim is to take a closer look at the long-debated question of whether dogs understand pointing as an informative gesture, as an imperative command, or as a simple associative cue?