The application of citizen science to an undergraduate research project on canine cognition

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Dezirae Leger


Animal research provides meaningful insight into animals' skills and abilities, further enhancing our care for and understanding of them. However, performing authentic animal research in an undergraduate class is difficult because of cost and limited resources. One solution to this challenge is citizen science. Citizen science is a form of research conducted by members of the public who perform experiments and gather information for researchers, allowing for wide-scale data collection with minimal cost associations. Thus, an experiment using the citizen science approach was performed in Animal Bioscience 360 at the University of Saskatchewan to determine if there were cognitive differences in groups of dogs. Teams of two students performed cognition tests on their own dogs and tested four aspects of cognitive ability: memory, object permanence, perspective-taking, and response to human cues. Together, the class tested 42 dogs and uploaded the experimental data to Excel. Students developed hypotheses to test whether dogs differing in age, gender, breed, obedience training, or household status had different cognitive profiles. There were no significant differences in cognition except that dogs living in single-dog households yawned significantly more often in response to human yawning than multi-dog households (P ≤ 0.05). The citizen science approach provided 61 students with an authentic research experience and improved their writing and numeracy skills. Undergraduate research experience assists in practical skill development, improved academic performance, and degree completion. Citizen science enhances participants' knowledge of the research area and provides a level of transparency toward scientific research.