Do dogs have
conscious thoughts? Do they reason things out?
From the time
I brought home a 5 1/2 week old German Shepherd puppy in 1988,
I've been studying dog behavior and how our canine friends think.
I initially fell into the older, traditional styles of training:
insist the dog do something, use punishment if necessary and make
your best attempt to turn the dog into a robotic creature that
responds to your commands with no thought on his part.
days of old, I've changed considerably and so has my interaction
with my dogs. What a wonderful thing it's been!
individual thoughts in my dogs. I teach them to make conscious
choices now. I want them to explore behaviors and offer new ones
by thinking about what I may want. It's a fascinating thing to
Do dogs have
conscious thought? Absolutely YES. Do dogs reason? Absolutely
my dogs in their interactions together, and analyzed their interactions
with me. While their thought processes are much more basic than
ours are, so are their needs. Food, water, companionship and a
warm place to live - and most dogs are very content. They don't
need sex. They don't need a $20,000 vehicle. They don't need a
TV and a DVD player and a computer (perish the thought that I
go without my computer! *LOL*). They are pretty darn good at entertaining
themselves with a stick or a ball or something they can tear apart.
They don't need to have complex thought processes in order to
deal with a typical dog life.
My style of
training these days capitalizes on allowing a dog to think through
behaviors. It's the very action of thinking that allows us to
expand behaviors and to venture into new areas in a positive way.
My dogs learn a myriad of "trick" behaviors - and nearly
all are based on their offering me new behaviors while trying
to get something from me (attention, treats, toys). I can almost
hear them thinking "if I do THIS, will I get THAT?"
definition of reason (as I'm using the term here) is: (1) the
power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly
rational ways : INTELLIGENCE (2) : proper exercise of the mind.
I watch Trick,
my older German Shepherd, and reason is proven on a daily basis.
Take, for example, what she does when her ball rolls under the
bed. She first tries to reach under with her muzzle, pushing as
far as she can. She'll reach in with a paw at times. If those
don't work, then she goes around the edge of the bed to the other
side and looks under from there. She'll attempt the "rescue"
from various angles and areas of the bed. When none of that works,
she comes to me, puts her head on my lap and gazes into my eyes
with that "I really need your help" look.
I see an act
of reasoning in this. An animal without the ability to reason
would not attempt to reach the ball from the other side of the
bed. They would simply see that the ball went under at one point
and that would be the area they would try to reach it from.
would be during training. When I'm teaching retrieving, I use
the dog's frustration and ability to think past the current behavior
to further our level. I start with the dumbbell in my hand, and
the dog sitting in front of me. I hold the dumbbell out slightly
to one side and gaze at it. As soon as the dog glances at it,
I give my reward word and follow it with a treat. I repeat the
exercise, holding the dumbbell in different areas (left, right,
up, down). The dog learns that looking at the dumbbell results
in the reinforcement, and the behavior is quickly formed.
But we have
to get past the glance, and this is where allowing the dog to
think and react comes into play. Once the first behavior is established,
I hold out the dumbbell and I don't give my reward word and reinforcement
when the dog looks at it. I simply wait. Generally I will get
another glance by the dog, and then his focus on my face in expectation
of the reward. When I don't react to that, the dog nearly always
escalates the behavior. He knows that there's SOME way to get
that treat, and that it has to do with the dumbbell. So he makes
a move towards the dumbbell. I immediately give my reward word
and follow it with the treat.
taken the step into thinking .. reasoning .. allowing the dog
to realize that there is something that gets him the reward and
he has to figure it out on his own with no help from me.
I love that
my dogs are thinking creatures and that I encourage that in them.
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