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Cognitive Flexibility Executive Function Working Memory

EF in the Dog Days of Summer

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking and how they learn? This is the perfect time to explore new research around the similarities in cognition among humans and dogs.

Long days, peak temperatures, and high humidity…we are officially in the dog days of summer! During this time, humans and their canine companions in the Northern Hemisphere will do their best to rest and avoid extended exposure to the sun and heat.

Over the summer you might have more time to observe your dog’s daily patterns. Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking and how they learn? This is the perfect time to explore new research around the similarities in cognition among humans and dogs.

Over the summer you might have more time to observe your dog’s daily patterns. Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking and how they learn? This is the perfect time to explore new research around the similarities in cognition among humans and dogs.

Executive Function and Dogs

According to a recent study from La Trobe University (link opens in new tab/window), dogs and humans regulate their behavior in similar ways. Researchers focused on a few executive function processes: the ability to follow instructions, control physical impulses, and use working memory.

Over thousands of years of domestication, the survival of dogs has depended on their ability to obtain sufficient food and care by regulating their behavior to suit the human environment. Just as considering the context is crucial when examining executive function processes in humans, the same concept applies when observing dogs and their processes.

Working dogs, such as farm dogs or assistance dogs, have demonstrated highly developed executive function processes. For example, seeing-eye dogs have the ability to inhibit urges to chase other animals and closely follow sequences of instructions.  

Developing EF Strategies

Research in humans has shown that a structured, systematic, and explicit approach to teaching executive function strategies (the foundation of the SMARTS curriculum) fosters self-understanding and empowers students to learn how to learn. Training, it turns out, is the key factor in dogs’ development of executive function processes. Next time you want to teach your dog a new trick, consider using a SMARTS strategy!

Looking to build your executive function toolkit? Join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 26, July 28, August 2, and August 4) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 9, August 11). All summer professional development opportunities are available online via Zoom and through recorded sessions.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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