Slate has a very interesting article entitled “Do Dogs Think?” Actually, a better title would be “Do Dogs Think Like Humans?”
I believe that there is no question – dogs do think. However, their thought processes are a lot different than humans’.
The example given was a dog who was left at home when the owner got a new job. The owner thought that the dog was acting up to “punish” her for taking the job and being gone so much.
The author talks to a canine behaviorist (not named).
His analysis: “Being angry at the human and behaving punitively?that’s not a thought sequence even remotely possible, given a dog’s brain. The likely scenario is that the dog is simply frightened.” When Heather was home, she was there to explain and enforce the rules. With her gone, the dog literally didn’t know how to behave. The dog should have been acclimated to a crate or room and confined more, not less, until she got used to her new independence.
Lots of dogs get nervous when they don’t know what’s expected of them, and when they get anxious, they can also grow restless. Blue hadn’t had to occupy time alone before. 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 definitely belive that we have to remember that dogs think differently than humans do. I have talked before of the “pack mentality” of dogs. I also believe that dogs live in the present a lot more than we do. They would not think of “punishing” us for things that happened in the past. They are more concerned with concrete things that are happening now.
Dogs do remember the past in some ways, which is how they can be trained so well. But their memory of the past is one of events and consequences, such as “If I beg, I will get food”, or “If I sit when my master tells me to, I will get a treat”. They don’t think in complicated human ways like “If I chew the furniture up, my master will realilze that I am mad about being left alone”.
I encourage you to read the whole article. I thought it was really interesting.