BENDIGO is now the epicentre for tricking dogs using optical illusions, a review of cutting edge behavioural science suggests.
The research is not just giving us new insights into the way dogs navigate the sometimes strange ways of human beings, lead author Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere says.
It is also helping us better understand our own unique ways of viewing the world around us.
"We, as humans, like to use our eyes but that's just because its our major sense. If you close your eyes and try to feel the world it may be more difficult," Dr Byosiere said.
"It doesn't hurt for us to put ourselves into the shoes of another animal. Dogs are particularly interesting because, one might argue, their strongest sense is their smell.
"But 75 per cent of the tasks we use to test how they process the world are done using vision."
That has made researchers like Dr Byosier wonder: do we underestimate what goes on in a dog's mind?
That is a hard question to answer even when studying humans' perceptions of the world.
"You and I can agree that a strawberry is red. But the red I see could be your version of purple. We never really know," Dr Byosiere said.
"So one of the interesting ways to study perception, regardless of species, is to look at misperception.
"That's what optical illusions are. They are kind of like hacks that tell us what we usually see in any given situation we find ourselves in, and what would make the most sense."
Dr Byosiere reviewed all studies into dogs and optical illusions for a paper in the International Journal of Behavioural Biology Ethology.
The field is still in its early days. Six studies have looked at dogs' susceptibility to illusions so far, four of which have strong links to researchers in Bendigo.
La Trobe University set up a dog lab at its Bendigo campus in 2015 and its head, Pauleen Bennett, said it would look at a wide range of questions on canine cognition psychology, including with optical illusions.
"Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years. We seem to have evolved particular skills in terms of interacting with them and they have evolved different skills in terms of interacting with us," Professor Bennett said at the time.
"They can understand humans way better than any other animal on earth and that makes that special."
Dr Byosiere - who now heads New York's Hunter College Thinking Dog Centre - was there when the lab opened and completed a PhD in Bendigo.
She enlisted central Victorian dog owners to train their pooches to respond to particular images appearing on computer screens.
The idea was to see if dogs were susceptible to the same kinds of optical illusions that humans were.
She got them to do the size discrimination tests that trick humans into perceiving shapes as bigger or smaller than they really are.
"It is one of those things that sounds easy when you first talk about it but took us so long to figure out how to do," she said.
The team trained dogs from Bendigo and Heathcote to "boop" people's hands with their noses. Then, they slowly trained the dogs to boop a computer screen and started adding things on the screens like shapes.
"Ultimately, we taught them that when they saw two circles on a screen they had to follow a rule. Some dogs were taught to always select the larger circle, some the smaller one," Dr Byosiere said.
She then introduced the dogs to the Ebbinghous Illusion, an image that makes two identically sized circles appear larger or smaller depending on what surrounds them.
The main take-away was that you can fool dogs into thinking once circle is bigger than the other, just not the one that tricks you.
"When you see that in animals it tends to suggest that they are processing what they see in a different way to humans," Dr Byosiere said.
"When we look at the world around us we like grouping things. When we see a tree we don't see all the individual leaves, we see the tree itself. The leaves are just once component of the tree that we perceive.
"There are species that focus on particular objects that make up an item."
Since then, experts like Dr Byosiere have turned their attention to other illusions.
That includes the Ponzo Illusion, which tricks us humans by playing on our sense of depth perception.
Strangely, experts have found dogs are not at all fooled by the illusion.
"It's very bizarre. It's not like we have tested that many species of animals, but all that we've looked at to date have demonstrated a human-like susceptibility to the illusion," Dr Byosiere said.
It could be further evidence that dogs see the leaves, not the trees.
Scientists are still unsure how and why dogs see the world the way they do, in part because of a major shortcoming all known optical illusions share.
Humans are the only species that can actually point to something and say "that is an illusion".
"We are humans. We only have theories to describe what we are accustomed to, or how we perceive a phenomenon," Dr Byosiere said.
"The illusion theories that are out there right now generally only explain why humans see these things. They don't explain the opposite.
"But it is such an interesting thing to look at in dogs because they ... are part of our everyday lives. They have to put up with human interaction that is all on our terms."
It shows how adaptable they are, especially to living with and making sense of the world humans create for them, Dr Byosiere said.
Researchers in Bendigo and around the world are delving deeper into the minds of the animals people share their lives with.
Dr Byosiere's New York-based research into optical illusions is increasingly focused on ways to test dogs' perceptions without months of training.
She has also helped out on a new project with cats, inspired by the internet meme movement "if it sits I sits".
One of Dr Byosiere's Hunter College students, Gabriella Smith, was inspired by the memes, which depict cats that have climbed into any container they can fit in.
"People noticed that cats would not only sit in boxes on the ground, they would sit in taped figures of boxes," Dr Byosiere said.
Ms Smith, Dr Byosiere and La Trobe Bendigo psychology expert Philippe Chouinard have just finished collecting data from citizen scientists showing whether cats would sit in an illusion of a box created by the Kanizsa Illusion.
"We have about 70 videos of cats from all over the world sitting in these squares. We have some really exciting findings so we can't wait to finish up our paper and submit it," Dr Byosiere said.
The results will not be made public until then.
To find out more about that project, click here.