The dog Willow

Willow the dog waits for her training with Haley Hays at the Canine Cognition Human Interaction Lab on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Sometimes, there are days that give people the urge to take their dog anywhere with them, but unfortunately, that’s often not possible due to animal restrictions in most places. 

However, there is a chance for dogs and owners to spend time together this Saturday at the University Plaza for the Husker DogFest. The Husker DogFest is put on by the department of psychology to showcase their Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab. The event begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m.

At the lab, there are two parts — canine cognition and human interaction. For canine cognition, scientists study dogs’ impulsiveness. On the human interaction side, they’re studying how interactions with dogs affect a human’s cognition, psychology and emotions. 

The event hosted by the lab will provide a variety of activities everyone and their dog can participate in. There will be vendors, dancing dogs, research lab tours and police dog demonstrations from both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department and the Nebraska State Patrol. All of the activities will hopefully benefit everyone in an educational and scientific sense, while having fun at the same time.

“The aim [for this year] is to communicate to the public what the research is, what our findings have been so far,” Associate Professor of Psychology and Event Coordinator Dr. Jeffrey Stevens said.

Stevens first came up with the event in June 2018 as a way to recruit both human and dog participants for the lab and enter them in the database. However, that isn’t the case for this year’s fest, as it’s more about informing the public of the lab’s results.

“We have plenty of dogs now,” Stevens said. “Really the aim this year is to say, ‘Ok, this is what we’ve done over the last year.’”

Senior psychology major and lab student employee Kylie Hughes said she thinks Husker DogFest will be enjoyable for people with and without pets, as the event is for dog lovers and those who want to learn more about them.

“What makes Husker DogFest so fun for people is that it allows both dog-owners and non-owners alike an opportunity to celebrate man's best friend while simultaneously learning more about them,” Hughes said. “I think many dog owners also enjoy having the opportunity to attend an event that is not just dog-friendly, but is designed to entertain and occupy their dogs as much as it is designed for people's entertainment.”

Stevens said organizing the event for this year was much different from last year, as the first Husker Dogfest was in the summer of 2018 and this year’s is during the school term. He said he also had the challenge of making the lab’s overall results readable for the general public to understand it and hopefully become interested in it. 

“The assistants and I are built to communicate our work to other scientists, so that’s kind of our default,” Stevens said. “We had to work really hard and talk a lot and go through edits and say, ‘how do we present our work to the general public?’ Cause that’s not something we have a lot of experience with. We had to keep thinking cut, cut, cut, simplify, simplify, simplify. We wanted to make it clear and free of jargon.” 

In the end, Hughes said she hopes people get a fun and educational experience out of the day. She also hopes it will increase interest and individuals willing to participate in future studies along with their dogs.  

“Other than having a great time, we hope DogFest allows people the opportunity to engage with our research lab and learn about our many different findings,” Hughes said. “We hope to excite people for our future studies and recruit more canine participants for our research.” 

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