Dogs’ Mind

Quite a while ago, an animal came around called Homo Sapiens. Roughly, that name means the knowing or wise animal. They used tools, made homes, pretty smart folks. Some time later, over 100,000 years ago, they became something new called Homo Sapiens Sapiens. They became self aware, they knew that they knew things. That’s pretty amazing, it allows for much more complex consideration of the world, much more complicated social interactions, more complex problems solving.

There are certainly some pretty smart animals out there, and they all have some measure of awareness of self. If you poke a cow, or any other animal, they will feel it. They will feel hunger etc., but no animals have been found to contemplate these experiences. Lions don’t let a buffalo walk by, because they’d prefer a giraffe tonight. If a lion is hungry, it hunts and eats what it finds.

Anyone who has spent time with a dog knows they can “read” us pretty well. They can tell when we’re upset, happy, sad, afraid, hurt…. Call this what ever you like. It certainly makes sense give the thousands of years dogs have spent with people. And it’s a little odd that they are so good at reading us, given that effectively we look as much like them as a horse looks like a baboon. But whether it’s reading body language and smells or something more profound consider this: a dog knows that you know. Think about that.

Try this “thought experiment.” You are in a room, in front of you is a man wearing a blindfold and a woman with a key. The woman hides the key. Then the man removes the blind fold. He looks at you and the woman and begins to panic, he finds the door, but it is locked. The woman smirks at you, delighting in this man’s anxiety. Regardless of whether you might help the man or join the woman in her torture, think about the awareness.

You aware of where you are. You are aware of others. You are aware of the thoughts of others. You are participating with them in their experience. You are contemplating the cognition of others, and their emotional state. In a physical sense, you are with them, you are aware of this, but so much more you are perceiving the world and acting in the world with them. And you know that you can change their experience. You are conscious and self conscious with them.

A very similar experiment was run with dogs who were social with people. One person, in sight of the dog, puts a toy, or food in one of three boxes and leaves the room. A second person enters. The dog can’t open the box, and the second person doesn’t know where the toy is. What’s a dog to do? He can’t say, “Hey Beth, could you open box number 2?” What the dog’s did do however was bark at Beth, nudge her and point or scratch at the appropriate box until Beth looked at the box and opened it.

Researchers tried a  variation of the same idea, except in this version Bob now locks the box,  hides the key, and then  leaves. (The dog’s were taught a bit about how keys work.) Enter Beth. Now the dog’s ignore the box and concentrate on drawing Beth’s attention to the key’s hiding place. Once Beth has successfully retrieved the hidden key for them, straight over to the appropriate box, barking, nudging, whining, in fact, imploring Beth to open the box. And if Beth doesn’t respond, the dog will try to go find Bob to get the key and open the box. If Bob and 3 other people are in the next room, the dog will always pick Bob, not Steve or Mary.

To sum up, dog’s know you know stuff. And here’s what that means.

  • Dogs are at least self aware enough to recognize other self aware creatures;
  • Dogs are conscious of the world and are conscious with other conscious beings;
  • Dogs know who knows what. The dogs know Bob knows where the key is and that Beth does not, but they also know that they can teach Beth not only where the key is hidden, but also, they know they can teach Beth how and where to use the key. Which means they think about you, not just perceive and interact;
  • Dogs can use tools, even if that tool is more often than not us;
  • Dogs have a depth of thought for problem solving, much more than just simple, do this and get a treat. The steps the dog needs to think about to get the toy 1. Beth needs to notice the key, 2. Beth must get the key, 3. Beth must find the correct box 4. Beth must realize the key is for the box, and 5. Beth must use the key on the box for me to get the toy;

Other animals have not been able to do this within their own species, but dogs have not only done this, they have done this with a very different species. We are the animals that know that we know, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. We call dogs Canis Lupus Familiaris, or roughly our wolf-dog family. Perhaps, a better name, Canis Lupus Sapiens, the wolf-dog that knows. Because it’s not just that we are familiar with them, they are familiar with us, consciously.