Helping to Build the Future of Behavior Research

PUBLISHED ON July 6, 2017 by brittney logan

The Darwin’s Dogs research project is possible thanks to the efforts of thousands of engaged dog owners — including you! Our volunteer-based research pairs information from owners’ responses to behavior surveys with genetic data collected using dog saliva samples to gain new insights about dog behavior and genetics.

Dogs are a great model for the study of behavior, as they have evolved alongside us for thousands of years. Owners, of course, know their dogs’ behavior best, which is why Darwin’s Dogs relies so much on owners like yourself. As of June 26 of this year, participants have shared a total of 1,406,619 responses to our questions on dog behavior questions. These survey questions provide us with the first glimpse of dog behavior, but even this huge set of survey responses cannot capture all the complexities of behavior; Darwin’s Dogs needed a way to gather more information on dog behavior.

In order to address this challenge Darwin’s Dogs created a behavior-themed, monthly meeting, called Woofster, based in Worcester MA, home of Darwin’s Dogs research. At Woofster, dog owners became behaviorists, using booklets that provide instructions for the fun, interactive activities, and included sheets for recording dogs’ behavioral data. The primary goal of Woofster is to determine which of these activities are most successful in engaging owners and dogs in providing reliable data for our research. By empowering owners to collect data, Woofster responses and feedback have helped to improve activity instructions, setup, and data-collection methods.


So far, Darwin’s Dogs has hosted eight successful Woofster meetings, engaging dogs and owners in a total of 40 fun activities!


Currently, Principal Investigator Elinor Karlsson, Postdoctoral Fellow Jesse McClure, and Research Associate Brittney Logan are examining the data collected by the first set of Woofster meetings. Once we have assessed this data and dog owners’ comments on specific activities, Woofster will reappear in Massachusetts pet stores, dog parks, festivals, etc. in late summer and fall. Moving Woofster to public areas will enable more owners and dogs to participate, and will help us to further focus on activities to those that are both fun for dogs and owners, and most successful for collecting behavioral data.

Using data from this next round of Woofster meetings, Darwin’s Dogs will create a smartphone app, which will offer the most successful and reliable activities for all 13,000 Darwin’s Dogs participants around the country to try at home!

Woofster is the building block to creating new methods of data collection for citizen science. We hope you will join us soon at public areas around Massachusetts to try out the Woofster activities! If you are not local, no worries — Darwin’s Dogs will soon launch our new smartphone app so your dog can contribute even more to canine behavior and genetics research.


Want to talk with other people about this story? Post about it on the Darwin's Ark's forums!