When I tell someone that I study dog behavior and cognition, the usual response is a cocked head and a smile ranging from incredibly wide and excited to incredibly confused and unsure. They heard the word dog, and (unless they are someone like Farhad Manjoo of Slate) they would love to talk about dogs, and particularly, their dog. But, study + dog + behavior + cognition? What? Today, Sunday, June 30th, you can see what that means for yourself.

Today marks the final day of #SPARCS2013, a three-day conference being held in Redmond, Washington but streaming live, for free, to any computer around the world. Today, you can have a first-hand look at actual canine research studies. Here are some of the topics that will be covered today:

  • Maybe you’ve heard that early life experiences are important for dogs, but what’s the research behind that statement? How do early life experiences affect brain growth and development, and what constitutes “early life”?

  • Maybe you’ve heard (or thought) that certain dogs are “smart” or “not smart,” but how should dog smarts be measured in a species with sensory similarities more akin to Toucan Sam (“Follow your nose!”) than us primates? On what level might “smarts” appear similar between dogs and humans, and do any similarities suggest that the mechanisms behind the smarts are the same?

  • While some dogs can learn to detect and discriminate minute smells and molecular compositions, how do dogs come to use or develop that capability? What is the olfactory experience of the average, companion dog, especially given each companion dog’s ontogeny -- their individual life experiences and personal development?

  • What are the sensibilities of companion dog living in the home? Are they diminished or enhanced by living in a home surrounded by humans as opposed to living on the streets?

  • And how do dogs see, smell and think about the world? Biology and psychology both greatly inform what we know and are learning about dogs.

I gave a run down of the entire conference topics and scientific presenters here. Today is the final day, and below are today's talks on Dog Cognition and Development. Check Facebook and Twitter for exact times.

Sunday, June 30 Talks. 9:00am - 5:00pm Pacific Standard Time (PST)

  • Michael W. Fox: Brain & Behavioral Development, Socialization & Superdogs

  • Clive Wynne: Dog Smarts: Their Nature and Function

  • Ádám Miklósi: Why dogs could not lose what they never had

  • Monique Udell: The Mind of the ‘Average’ Dog: Are we barking up the wrong tree?

  • Alexandra Horowitz: The Dog’s Point of View

5:00pm - 6:00pm Group Panel Discussion (PST)

  • Ray Coppinger, Michael W. Fox, Alexandra Horowitz, Kathryn Lord, Monique Udell, Clive Wynne Moderated by James K. Russell

You’ll find vibrant twitter discussions at #SPARCS2013, and you can even submit questions to a panel discussion at the conference. Of course, if you miss any of the programming, a DVD will be available later so check back with the SPARCS organizers.

If someone asks you what you did today, and you say you learned about dog behavior and cognition, now you will be able to explain when someone responds with a cocked head and sideways smile.

SPARCS Free Live Stream

#SPARCS2013 on Twitter and @CanineScience

SPARCS on Facebook

Image: Treat? By Nick Aldwin via Flicker and Creative Commons