To find a hidden treat, dogs rely more on their memory than their sense of smell, reveals new research by citizen scientists which was corroborated by lab findings.
Five hundred citizen scientists around the world contributed data to a study of what goes on inside the minds of their dogs. The research analyses data collected by 500 dog owners who played the same games at home that researchers use in the laboratory to find out about a dog's cognitive skills and problem-solving.
On five of the seven tests analyzed, citizen science data corresponded closely to what had been produced by labs at Duke University and elsewhere.
For example, in one of the game-like tests, dogs were found to rely more on their memory than their sense of smell to find a hidden treat. The dogs watched as their owner hid food under one of two cups. Then while the dog's vision was obscured, the owner switched the food to the other cup.
If dogs could smell the food, they should have been able to choose the correct cup, but owners found that most dogs went to where they last saw the food.
The data was collected through a website called Dognition.com that was developed by Brian Hare, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke. More than 17,000 dog owners from downtown Durham to Finland have signed up through Dognition and are sharing their data with the researchers.
"Most people think dogs use their sense of smell for everything. But actually dogs use a whole range of senses when solving problems," said Evan MacLean, a senior research scientist at Duke. The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE