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.
This is an interesting foray into the dog world.
I have recently started following your blog following a suggestion from the Gentle Author. I wonder if, from your content, you might also be a biologist? I originally studied Biology at university before, like Madonna, going through several iterations of myself. However, I did study an interesting module in mammalian ethology. I am a cat person and still find myself watching their behaviour. They know that I feed them at regular intervals so, when it approaches 5pm for example, and I am working at home, any foray into the kitchen must mean food. Any exit via the front door may result in the youngest cat sliding out with me in an elaborate game of me worrying about the traffic and she, knowing I’ll coax her back into the house with Dreamies. They definitely do watch us and decide if our behaviour is beneficial to them or not. There are differences between cats and dogs with the former being solitary and the latter a pack animal but there is no doubt that centuries of domestication has altered their behaviour but, I have no doubt, there is a bond between pet and owner, that is deeper than treats.
Thanks Christine, and welcome! I am currently busting my way through an Open University science degree (biology and ecology) though so I can’t claim to be a fully-fledged scientist yet, I have always been fascinated by the way the natural world works. I have fostered cats for a local cat charity, and if you search on ‘this is not a cat blog’ there’s a post about all the various characters that I looked after. Plus my current rescue cat makes sporadic appearances :-).
My wife told me about a dog they used to have which knew what they were going to do before they did it!
They are so attuned to our body language that I think they sometimes know what we’re going to do before we know!