Do dogs think? (3)

December 21, 2006 2:37am CST
Dogs can get unnerved by this. They bark, chew, scratch, destroy. Getting yelled at and punished later doesn't help: The dog probably knows it's doing something wrong, but it has no idea what. Since there's nobody around to correct behaviors when the dog is alone, how could the dog know which behavior is the problem? Which action was wrong? He made sense to me. Dogs are not aware of time, even as a concept, so Blue couldn't know whether she was being left for five minutes or five hours, or how that compared to being left for a movie two weeks earlier. Since she had no conscious notion that Heather's work life had changed, how could she get angry, let alone plot vengeance? The dog was alone more and had more time to fill. The damage was increasing, most likely, because Blue had more time to get into mischief and more opportunities to react to stimulus without correction—not because she was responding to different emotions. I was familiar with the "theory of mind" notion the behaviorist was referring to. Psychologist David Premack of the University of Pennsylvania talks about it; it's also discussed in Stanley Coren's How Dogs Think. The phrase refers to a belief each of us has about the way others think. Simply, it says that since we are aware and self-conscious, we think others—humans and animals—are, too. There is, of course, enormous difference of opinion about whether this is true. When I used to leave my border collie Orson alone in the house, uncrated, he learned to open the refrigerator with his nose, remove certain food items, open the plastic container, and consume its contents. Then he'd squirrel away the empty packages. Everyone I told this story made the same assumptions: Orson was a wily devil taunting me for leaving him alone. We actually installed a child lock on the refrigerator door. But what changed his behavior was that I began to crate him when I went out. He has not raided the fridge since. Yet he could easily sneak in and do that while he's uncrated and I'm occupied outdoors or elsewhere in the house. Is he no longer wily? Or is he simply less anxious?(to be continued)
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