Our research tries to answer one main question – what can dogs do? To this end we focus on three main areas.

Can dogs help change attitudes to wildlife conservation and custodianship? 

We know that companion pet ownership can change levels of compassion [1], attitudes to wild animals [2, 3] so we are currently studying how attending a purely positive dog training school will alter children’s attitudes to the wildlife around them, particularly canid carnivores.


Qualitative and quantitative questionnaires as well as observations of child behaviours.

Can dogs differentiate between different species of baboon spiders and/or between their sexes?

Although golden brown baboon spiders are protected we know surprisingly little about their current population status and life histories. Found in a very small range around Hoedspruit, this study hopes to both identify the nests of the spiders in order to build a population density map as well as assess how accurate dogs are in determine which species of spider they find (five baboon spider species occur in this range).


A series of experimental trials designed to quantify dogs ability to differentiate between spiders.

Canine cognition

Can visualisation of an object enhance scent detection abilities? We know dogs understand visual representations of objects [4] so here we hope to discover if dogs are better at scent detection if they have visual cues.


A series of experimental trials design to quantify dogs ability to find objects with and without visual cues.



[1] Cameron Z. Shuttlewood, Phillip J. Greenwell & V. Tamara Montrose (2016) Pet Ownership, Attitude Toward Pets, and Support for Wildlife Management Strategies, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 21:2, 180-188, DOI: 10.1080/10871209.2016.1116029

[2] Hawkins RD, Williams JM, Scottish Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Scottish Spca. Childhood Attachment to Pets: Associations between Pet Attachment, Attitudes to Animals, Compassion, and Humane Behaviour. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(5):490. Published 2017 May 6. doi:10.3390/ijerph14050490

[3] Paul, Elizabeth and Serpell, James, 1993/01/31, Pet ownership in childhood: its influence on attitudes towards animals, Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, DOI: 10.1016/0168-1591(93)90151-E

[4] Somppi, S., Törnqvist, H., Hänninen, L. et al. Anim Cogn (2014) 17: 793. How dogs scan familiar and inverted faces: an eye movement study, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0713-0.

[5] Autier-Dérian D, Deputte BL, Chalvet-Monfray K, Coulon M, Mounier L (2013) Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris). Anim Cogn 16:637–651