1780 – The Official Blog of Transylvania University

1780 | The Official Blog of Transylvania University

Transylvania em‘barks’ on new field of research with opening of Dog Behavior and Cognition Lab

dog in front of campus sign
people working with a dog

The dog days of summer have arrived a little early at Transylvania University.

The school’s Dog Behavior and Cognition Lab welcomed its first participants this week as faculty and students from several colleges began a study on how training affects self control.

The lab, which was the idea of Transylvania psychology professor Ellen Furlong ’03, was installed in the lower level of Mitchell Fine Arts in the old Rafskeller.

For the first study, researchers are testing canines like Hannah Mooney’s dog Charlie. Mooney posted photos of him in the study, next to the Kissing Tree and on the Transylvania sign.

“I’m pretty sure he loved the experiments: He got to hunt for (and eat!) treats,” Mooney said. “He’ll do just about anything for a treat!”

The dogs are performing tasks, similar to games, involving a search for food under cups or around obstacles, for instance. The owners are also learning relaxation techniques for their pets.

Furlong describes what the study is trying to find out:

people posing with a dog

“Many trainers suggest that self control is like a muscle — that training it up in one area (for example, training a good down stay in the face of distractions) will improve it in others (not chasing the cat, greeting grandma politely and not taking candy from a baby!). But research suggests that generalization is really hard, and that it’s unlikely that self control will generalize in that way. So which is it?”

Furlong is collaborating with professors Rebecca Singer with Berea College and Zach Silver, a former student, with Occidental College in Los Angeles. She teaches a May term class called “Fido on the Couch” as well — watch a WKYT feature on it — and she’s often interviewed for articles, videos and podcasts.

The lab is now recruiting a waitlist control group and will start a relaxation protocol in late August or September. Register here, and email professor Furlong with any questions.

Students working on the current project are pictured above (l-r): Riley Welch (Georgetown College), Kathryn Winburn ’25 (Transylvania) and Caitlyn Jones (Berea). Furlong is pictured with one of the participants, Havoc.