Sma' Talk Wi' T

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Dogs Know Right From Wrong

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Studies are coming out that prove with 10,000 years of human domestication, dogs do communicate with their owners and understand what we are trying to tell them.

In a remarkable experiment to probe canine cognition, Prof Ludwig Huber and colleagues at the University of Vienna put dogs through a classic experiment done with children in which an instructor demonstrates to a toddler how to turn off a light using her forehead, once with her hands clearly visible and once when wrapped in a shawl, so that she can’t use them.

When invited to turn the light off for themselves, toddlers who were shown the first version use their heads, but those shown the second use their hands.

The standard interpretation is that the first group conclude that there must be a good but non-obvious reason for using the forehead method, as otherwise the instructor would have used her hands. Dogs do the same thing in Prof Huber’s experiments, where they had to pull a lever to obtain a reward, lending support to the idea that dogs have a rudimentary “theory of mind.”

They possess a moral compass too, in order to negotiate the complex social world of people, adds Prof Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

He argues that the fact that rough-and-tumble dog play rarely escalates into full-blown fighting shows that the animals abide by rules and expect others to do the same. In other words, they know right from wrong.

With my own Sheila, a wheaten-colored Scottish terrier, she definitely communicated and had emotions regarding her own integrity. My next door neighbor called her Miss Marple because she was so prim and proper.

When she was groomed and it was too short, she would hide and mope. When we played with her and wanted her to wear dog scarves, masks, clothing, and reindeer antlers, she was humiliated and would not move an inch till we took the horrible attire off of her. I even was able to teach her how to moo like a cow when I asked her ‘what does a cow say?’ It was a low growl that stretched into the oooh sound when you listened hard. I would point to cows and she would moo. Seriously. It was funny. It was even funnier to have her entertain at parties and sit her in the middle of a group of adults drinking and having fun, and ask her what does the cow say? Sheila would have to wait till all the adults stopped mooing and giving her the answer before she would finally moo. She never rough-housed with me, although her jaws could have ripped my hands off. She was very gentle except with opossums, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, and lubber grasshoppers. She knew the difference between poisonous snakes and regular garden variety snakes. She lived 15 years and my heart broke when she went to sleep for the last time.

Some people don’t give dogs enough credit. Dogs love with their whole heart, they are always on your side, and they watch out for you. Maggie, one of two rescue Scotties we currently have, never lets me out of her sight. She will come looking for me no matter where I am in the house. She will then lay down at my feet and patiently wait for me. I wonder sometimes if she thinks to herself “oops, I don’t see her, I hope she’s not getting into any trouble… I better go find her.” I wonder also if she’ll realize one day, I know right from wrong, too.

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Written by smalltalkwitht

August 20, 2008 at 11:15 pm

One Response

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  1. I too have Scotties and for over 35 years! I heard recently that Queen Elizabeth had some at her castle in Scotland. Have you ever heard of this? Love to talk about my babies, they are a bred apart!
    Vicki Thompson

    victoria Thompson

    August 27, 2009 at 5:51 pm


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