Cat and Dog Research

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Cat- and dog-centric research
compiled by Leslie Muchmore, Improbable Research staff

(Image credit: Claudio Matsuoka)

Cats and a String
“Domestic Cats (Felis catus) Do Not Show Causal Understanding in a String-Pulling Task,” Emma Whitt, Marie Douglas, Britta Osthaus, and Ian Hocking, Animal Cognition, vol. 12, no. 5, September 2009, pp. 739-743. The authors, at the University of Nottingham, UK, report:

This study explored how domestic cats perform in a horizontal string-pulling task to determine whether they understand this case of physical causality. Fifteen cats were tested on their ability to retrieve an unreachable food treat in three different set-ups: (a) a single baited string, (b) two parallel strings where only one was baited and (c) two crossed strings where only one was baited. All cats succeeded at pulling a single string to obtain a treat, but none consistently chose the correct string when two strings were parallel. When tested with two crossed strings one cat chose the wrong string consistently and all others performed at chance level. There was no evidence that cats understand the function of the strings or their physical causality.

Classify Dogs’ Facial Expressions from Photographs
“Classifying Dogs’ (Canis familiaris) Facial Expressions from Photographs,” Tina Bloom and Harris Friedman, Behavioural Processes, vol. 96, 2013, pp. 1-10. The authors, at the State Correctional Institute, Marienville, Pennsylvania and Walden University, Florida, report:

To explore humans’ ability to identify dogs’ facial displays, photographs of a dog’s face were taken under behaviorally defined conditions expected to elicit specific emotions. Dog experts consistently rated these photographs. The photographs rated as best by experts were used as stimuli for people experienced and inexperienced with dogs. Both groups were able to read the dog’s emotions. Paradoxically, experienced people were less accurate reading aggressiveness.

Detail from the study.

Cats, Causal Logic, and Invisible Objects
“There’s No Ball Without Noise: Cats’ Prediction of an Object From Noise,” Saho Takagi , Minori Arahori, Hitomi Chijiiwa, Mana Tsuzuki, Yuya Hataji, and Kazuo Fujita, Animal Cognition, epub, June 14, 2016. (Thanks to A.M. Merritt for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Kyoto University, report:

We used an expectancy violation procedure to ask whether cats could use a causal rule to infer the presence of an unseen object on hearing the noise it made inside a container and predict its appearance when the container was turned over. We presented cats with either an object dropping out of an opaque container or no object dropping out (turning-over phase) after producing either a rattling sound by shaking the container with the object inside, or no sound (shaking phase). The cats were then allowed to freely explore the experimental environment (exploration phase). The relation between the sound and the object matched with physical laws in half of the trials (congruent condition) and mismatched in the other half (incongruent condition).... The results suggest that cats used a causal-logical understanding of auditory stimuli to predict the appearance of invisible objects.

Effect of Dogs’ Seeing on Owners’ Peeing
“Dog’s Gaze at Its Owner Increases Owner’s Urinary Oxytocin During Social Interaction,” Miho Nagasawa, Takefumi Kikusui, Tatsushi Onaka, and Mitsuaki Ohta, Hormones and Behavior, vol. 55, no. 3, March 2009, pp. 434–441. (Thanks to Neil Martin for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Azabu University and Jichi Medical University, Japan, report:

Oxytocin (OT) has been shown to play an important role in social bonding in animals.... In this study, to examine the possibility that urinary OT concentrations of owners were increased by their “dog’s gaze”, perhaps representing social attachment to their owners, we measured urinary OT concentrations of owners before and after interaction with their dogs. Dog owners interacted with their dogs as usual for 30 min (interaction experiment) or were instructed not to look at their dogs directly (control experiment). We observed the behaviors of owners and their dogs during the experiments, and measured OT concentrations by radioimmunoassay in urine samples from the owners collected just before and 20 min after interaction with their dogs.... We conclude that interactions with dogs, especially those initiated by the dog’s gaze, can increase the urinary OT concentrations of their owners as a manifestation of attachment behavior.

(Image credit: Flickr user Appalachian dreamer)

Dogs and Humans Staring at Each Other, and Urinating
“Oxytocin-Gaze Positive Loop and the Coevolution of Human-Dog Bonds,” Miho Nagasawa, Shouhei Mitsui, Shiori En, Nobuyo Ohtani, Mitsuaki Ohta, Yasuo Sakuma, Tatsushi Onaka, Kazutaka Mogi, and Takefumi Kikusui, Science, vol. 348, no. 6232, April 17, 2015, pp. 333-336. The authors report:

[U]rine was collected from the dogs and owners right before and 30 min after the interaction, and the duration of the following following behaviors was measured during the interaction: “dog’s gaze at owner (dog-to-owner gaze),” “owner’s talking to dog (dog-talking),” and “owner’s touching of dog (dogtouching).” Dog owners were assigned to one of two groups: long gaze or short gaze.... The oxytocin change ratio in owners correlated significantly with that of dogs, the duration of dog-to-owner gaze, and dog-touching. Moreover, the duration of the dog-to-owner gaze correlated with dog-talking and dogtouching; however, through multiple linear regression analysis, we found that only the duration of dog-to-owner gaze significantly explained the oxytocin change ratio in owners.


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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