Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who'd Have Thought?

I recently bought a book called How Dogs Think. It was a translation from German, I believe, and at times the translation could have flowed better. The conclusion, though, makes sense. Can dogs think? You bet!

Of course, a lot of the book was about figuring out your dog’s own personality and emotions, then using them to teach him or her by using some recommended exercises. It also addressed whether dogs reason. But I didn’t really need a book to convince me that dogs have some ability to reason. Sure, it’s far from being as sophisticated as human reason--well, that of most humans, maybe--but there’s something there!

Even my husband, Fred, who’s had to make peace over the years with the fact I’m a dog person, has been impressed now and then by Lexie’s reasoning ability. For example, she was standing in our backyard one day and saw him emerge into the outdoor dog run beside the house. In a couple of minutes, she’d joined him. She couldn’t get there directly, but had to figure out that she needed to run up the stairs at the back of the house, into the kitchen, down the stairs inside the house, through another room, up some more stairs, then outside. Okay, so she knows where her dog run is. Even so, she didn’t even attempt to go through, or around, the fence separating her from Fred. Instead, she used the right route. Reasoning? Maybe, at least on some level.

Some of what appears to be possible reasoning is instead conditioning. For example, Fred has been taking Lexie on car rides to pick me up at the subway stop midday, when I get home from my morning law job. Now, she leaps around and squeals her special “I want to go for a ride” tone every time anyone seems to be going for a midday ride, even me. Her begging is often unsuccessful. But she listens and watches for signals, just in case--like Fred’s cell phone ringing when I call him to tell him I’m on my way, and his getting her leash.

I’d like to know how dogs tell time. Lexie comes to paw at my arm or leap around my office till I pay attention to her every day around 6 PM--her dinner time. Does her tummy wait until then to get hungry? Not likely, considering how spoiled she is by treats during the day. The sun isn’t always in the same position, we don’t always have a radio or TV on to signal her with some familiar-sounding show, and she won’t tell me what her clue is. But she sure is aware when 6 rolls around.

Okay, I admit that I love dogs. Lexie is definitely my fur kid. I’m therefore predisposed to assume the best of them. But even if their only kind of reasoning and intelligence is to be there for their people and astound and amuse us, who can ask for more?



Monica Ferris said...

Cats can tell time, too. Our two cats get a bedtime snack, around ten p.m., and they start getting anxious around nine-thirty. One cat, now deceased, was always trying to move the time back. He was persistent -- whining, coming touch me on the arm -- that I gave in and fed him a treat around nine. At ten, he was back. Didn't he get a treat at ten? That nine o'clock thing was lovely, but didn't he get a treat at ten? Didn't he? Of course he did!

Chris Redding said...

My dog has a pretty good vocabulary.
He knows
truck (because he loves to ride in my husband's pickup truck)
firehouse (because said husband takes him to the firehouse where he gets to eat chips off the floor.)
Lassie (because that's his buddy.
crate (where he lives when we aren't home)
It does not matter what tone of voice I say those words in, he gets it.
I often have to spell things if I don't want him to get excited.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Don't tell me your cats are as spoiled as my dog, Monica. And that's adorable, Chris. It's fascinating how much so-called dumb animals can learn if they want to. Yes, I know the phrase refers to the fact animals can't talk, but that's wrong, too. They just speak their own language, and we usually understand them, too!