Luther senior researches the canine-human relations

August 7, 2018

Dogs have the ability to communicate with human beings through everyday interactions and bonds. With his summer research project, Jacob Noble, Luther College senior of Plymouth, Minnesota, is studying the extent to which certain interactions affect canine-human relations.

Noble, the son of Matt and Amy Noble, is a 2015 graduate of Robbinsdale Cooper High School and is pursuing a neuroscience degree at Luther.

Noble is working with Kristy Gould, Luther professor of psychology, on his project, “The impact of encouragement and familiarity on pet dogs during an unsolvable task.” Other contributors include Jennifer Templeton, Knox professor of biology, and one of her research students.

The research includes teaching a dog how to open a lid and then rewarding the dog with a treat in the presence of their owner and a demonstrator, the person who teaches the dog how to open the lid. The owners either encourage or don’t encourage the dog throughout the training. After the dog has mastered the task, the lid is locked, making the task unsolvable. The main portion of the research is then observing the dog’s behavior after the lid is locked for two key variables: how persistent the dog becomes to open the lid and how long the dog will look at the two people in the room, presumably for help. The research is looking at whether the two variables described are impacted by whether the owners encouraged or did not encourage the dogs.

This research is being duplicated by Jennifer Templeton, professor of biology at Knox College, however the owner is replaced by a stranger in the room. “The combined data will look at the impact of the familiarity of people on persistence and gazing at humans during the unsolvable task as well,” said Noble.

Noble further reflects, “the most interesting part of the research is that every dog is unique in its own way. They each respond differently to the unsolvable task and its fascinating watching them attempt to solve it. Dogs have been bred by humans to be responsive to us and the verbal cues we provide. Because of this, they tend to look to us for information, help and encouragement. By understanding the role that familiarity and specific interactions, like encouragement, has on dog behavior helps us understand how human-dog interactions work and how they may have evolved, both naturally and artificially through domestication.”

Noble and Gould’s collaboration is one of 30 summer student-faculty research projects funded through Luther’s College Scholars Program and Dean’s Office. The Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities that are part of Luther’s academic core and intend to deepen the learning process.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,050, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: