Dear Readers, following my article about Spock my childhood dog yesterday, I remembered this article from New Scientist, which suggests that dogs know far more about our intentions than we might realise.
48 pet dogs were filmed as they sat on one side of a transparent plastic screen, with a hole in it. A human being on the other side of the screen showed them a treat, and then either teased them by drawing it back when they went to take it, or ‘accidentally’ dropped it. All the dogs got all the treats after 30 seconds, but their behaviour in the meantime was fascinating.
Where the dogs were teased, they often backed away, sat down and refused to make eye contact. I imagine if they could have said ‘harrumph’ (or something stronger) they would have done.
When it looked as if the human was just being clumsy, they maintained eye contact, wagged their tails and stayed close to the screen.
This might not sound like much, but it implies that the dogs clearly knew the intentions of the humans, something which had previously only been proved with non-human primates – I’ve heard of many experiments/observations of animals such as crows understanding the thought processes of another member of their own species, but am not sure that I’ve come across one which demonstrates such an understanding of us and our funny little ways.
And in a delightful detail, the dogs confronted with a ‘clumsy’ human wagged their tails more on the right-hand side, which apparently shows that they are happy. It seems that they can forgive us for being hopeless, but are less tolerant of us being asshats, and well done them. We should all be forgiving of mistakes and general human-ness, and a bit less forgiving of cruelty.