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Memorial research on dogs to be featured on The Nature of Things

By Kelly Foss | Nov. 18, 2013

Dr. Carolyn WalshAn upcoming episode of CBC’s The Nature of Things will highlight research being done in the Department of Psychology.

The episode, entitled A Dog’s Life, is a fun and whimsical documentary that looks at interesting current canine behavioural science and debunks a lot of the long held beliefs about "man’s best friend."

It features fascinating information and experts including Dr. Carolyn Walsh, an associate professor of psychology and the co-chair of the Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program. With colleague Dr. Rita Anderson, she spearheads the Canine Research Unit (CRU) at Memorial, which is composed of undergraduate and gradate students studying many aspects of canine behavior.

“I received an email from the producer, Daniel Zuckerbrot, last year and they said they were making a documentary looking at dog research and would our lab be interested in participating,” said Dr. Walsh.

The CRU believes they were chosen for the documentary because they have a different take on dog research.

“There are only a few people in Canada and the United States currently doing dog research and a handful in Europe,” said Dr. Anderson. “Some of them are looking at dog cognition, while others compare wolves and dogs. We've been very interested in dog social behaviour.”

Dr. Walsh says the team takes an observational approach to their subject.

“We let the animals speak for themselves in terms of what their behaviour demonstrates about them,” she said. “We’re not exactly newcomers to the field, but we haven’t been doing this long. I guess, most of the other labs haven’t been doing it long either.”

They say dog research had been disfavoured in the past because of the close relationship between them and their human companions. But in recent years, that has become a strength for those doing research in the field, and interest in the area has been growing.

The episode premieres on CBC Television’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki on Thursday, Nov. 21 at 8:30 p.m.

More about the show can be found online at http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/a-dogs-life


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