Citizen Science, it's all about everyone getting involved!
Updated: May 21
The field of animal science have been evolving over the last few years.
With the help of cloud technology and the many ways we humans can now communicate and exchange information is evolving at such a fast pace.
Science is now able to move beyond the laboratory and study dogs in what I believe is their natural habitat, in our homes.
Right by our sides cohabiting with humans and other animals, just where they belong and thrive.
For many years behaviorism has taken the limelight in animal training but slowly people have accepted that we are not the higher beings and that actually humans and many other animals are similar in more ways than history might want us to believe.
Acceptance and evidence of the emotional animal gave physiology and ethology more weight and started to open up more questions about these strange creatures that become our friends and that we share our life
(you can read a bit more about emotions here Illis ABC Emotions Blog)
Now we live in a world rich in canine science and trying to understand what makes a dog a dog is still a huge question, what makes them different to wolves, how does their cognition work, how have the different traits been evolved in each breed and what effect does this have, how have they evolved a unique form of social cognition that enable them to now be domesticated and live and understand humans and other species so successfully, how do they communicate with us so effectively without uttering a word?
That`s one of my big questions,
how do dogs understand us much more successfully than we understand them and why do some people seem to hold a connection to dogs without doing anything even when they are not dog owners themselves?
Has the human race got a genetic component to dog communication, are some of use born different to others?
Dogs (and many other animals) are no longer considered as stimulus response machines but highly complicated individuals with personalities and I personally rejoice that, it's an exciting time for people that geek out on dogs!
What is Citizen Science Then?
Citizen science is all about you and your dogs and how you can help scientists and researchers gather data on our best mates, it's usually made up of questionnaires sometimes actual tests you can carry out at home whilst sat with a cuppa and a cake, you could even get your children involved.
Why is it important, how can you help?
One thing about data is that the more you gather the better your chances of being accurate, sample size is often a weakness in canine science studies because of the availability and suitability of the candidates. This in itself can also lend a bias to the test group, if a laboratory can not facilitate a reactive dog then they can never become part of that data set.
That said citizen science has its own drawbacks, one of which being test criteria and accuracy by the untrained home scientist another being owner bias, I`m sure we all have rose tinted glasses for our dogs we have a bias towards their success, that in itself should be investigated!
Never the less it can ask questions, they might throw up trends that then steer further research and all of it is about working towards our canine companions being understood better so welfare needs can be kept up to date and their lives can be enriched further.
Do you want to get involved?
So you're interested in doing some science, how do you start? Well we have made a list of some of the projects we know of below, go and take a read, see if you can get involved somehow.
Lets do this!
Generation Pup is a groundbreaking study of the health, welfare and behaviour of our dogs throughout their whole lives.
‘Generation Pup’ is a unique type of research project – known as a cohort study – where lots of individual dogs are followed over their lifetime. This has some big advantages over other approaches, as it enables us to investigate whether events or environments early in life influence the development of conditions as dogs get older.
The Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) is a standardized, behavioural evaluation tool for dog owners/guardians, handlers and professionals.
It was developed and validated by Yuying Hsu and James Serpell in 2003, and has been available for completion via a publicly accessible online website since 2005.
At the time of writing, the C-BARQ database at the University of Pennsylvania now contains detailed behavioural evaluations for approximately 50,000 pet dogs comprising more than 300 different breeds and cross-breeds.
Family Dog Project
The Family Dog Project was founded in 1994 to study the behavioural and cognitive aspects of the dog-human relationship. It is currently the largest dog research group in the world.
Assist in research investigating the evolutionary and ethological foundations of dog-human relationship by taking one of their online surveys.
Participate in one of their projects by scrolling through this page
Darwin’s Ark lets ordinary citizens become scientific partners. Projects, such as Darwin’s Dogs, combine genetics and behaviour to advance the understanding of complex diseases.
You can find Darwins Ark here
Pets Can Do
Pet owners and non-pet owners from all over the world can participate by filling out surveys about topics such as: separation anxiety in dogs and self-disclosure with dogs.
The survey list is updated regularly with new surveys.
If you live in the area, you can sign your dog up to take part in one of their research programs, found in one of three categories: observational, behaviour/training tasks, or training skills practicals.
You can find their latest projects here
While at Lincoln University
has a survey about current preventive health care measures in dogs.
This is part of her degree work, she would love you to fill in and help.
you can find it here
Her friend Hanna also has her survey on the public perception of behavioural and genetic conditions in dogs. You can find it here
Dog Cognition Center
Dr Juliane Kaminski at the University of Portsmouth and fellow researchers from the Department of Psychology will be studying all kinds of questions around dog cognition.
If you live locally you might be able to get involved, for more information visit the university page
Yep of course we like a bit of doggy data, if you offer it then we will use it!
We have recently started our own citizen science project, this is a long term project to find out a little bit more about people and their lives with dogs. You can find out more about it and get involved yourself here
Our first form is our lock down form, this was made to try and track some of the changes over the lock down period and features some modified questions from our behaviour pre-assessment form.
you can find it here Lock down Form
Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) (Wright, Mills & Pollux, 2011) This is a digitized version of the DIAS assessment questionnaire used to measure impulsivity in dogs you can find more information here at Lincoln university.
DIAS surveys are only really suitable for adult dogs that have gone through puberty, we don`t actually use the results to influence training but I have found that the information they provide has been quite accurate in the way the dogs present.
I personally find them fascinating but it does involve a fair bit of time with a calculator to get the results, this one for me will be all about data over time and how it compares across breeds as I feel that impulsivity and a breeds specific task are related as well as correlating to stress in the internal and external environment.
Citizen science for other animals!
Yep, you heard right, I mean right here right now I give you a survey about rabbits (also from Lincoln university) Owner lifestyle and rabbit housing
A quick google search took me to this us site (warning not secure) about some cat science, interesting stuff, cats are actually pretty cool.
There is also a useful site called SciStarter that list all sorts of projects, just use your imagination and search.
In a slightly different format and a bit detached form animals but science nevertheless! Zooniverse
So as you can see there are lots of ways you and your dogs can help even in lock down and to the children out there, explore your interests, as you can see there's more to working with animals than training and farming, there`s a whole host of canine jobs that will enable you to follow your dreams and do more of what you like, if it is your passion, then chase that dream and never be afraid to ask questions you think have answers because often they don`t, discovery needs inquisition.
Are you ready to find your inner geek, embrace it, be proud of it!
Until next time, Train Smart, bond tight, have fun.