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Test yourself on your dog knowledge: it’s for science

ByBen Thomas

Apr 27, 2018

Do you think you know dogs? Then test yourself, for science!

Everyone who is familiar with dogs can tell you that their behaviour is largely related to their breed. Chihuahuas will generally shout at nothing, Rottweilers are strong, and Border Collies are incredibly smart. 

But what about when we meet mixed breed dogs?

Due to their nature, they’re not so easy to fit into behavioural boxes. Despite this, we seem to subconsciously try to infer their behaviour from the breeds we think we can see.

A research group has realised that mixed breed dogs are an excellent window into understanding dog behaviours, and they’re starting with the very first step on a series of experiments; finding out how good the public are at recognising dog breeds.

On 16th April, a team of scientists at Darwin’s Dogs launched MuttMix; a citizen science project, where volunteers are shown a picture of a mutt, and have to identify the top three breeds they think the dog belongs to.

The researchers then take the answers and compare them to the dog’s known genetic profile; that way, they can tell how adept the public are at identifying various dog breeds.

With MuttMix, people will have a chance to test their knowledge of dog breeds and while it may seem frivolous, every click provides more information for scientists to use.

Despite how light hearted this first step may seem at an initial glance, the project intends to become much more focused – it plans to tease out how much of a dog breed’s behaviour is due to the actual breed of the dog, and how much is due to how we treat dogs because of how we perceive their breed.

In other words, it’s trying to get to the bottom of nature versus nurture, with reference to dog breed behaviours.

Citizen science is nothing new, but it’s not often dog centered or made into a quiz.

In essence, the project is a way of collecting and analysing data by the general public, which is then given to scientists for them to use.

One good example of such a website is zooniverse.org, which allows anyone to take part in cutting edge scientific research from across a variety of disciplines all from the comfort of their own  computer.

Image credit: Karolina Piontek via Flickr

By Ben Thomas

PhD Student in the British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science, interested in all things science.

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