I post regularly here at 13.7 about animal cognition, crediting a variety of animals — including some of our daily companions — with the ability to think. So I’d forgive anyone for wondering if my headline today is of the straw-man (or straw-dog) category.
Do dogs think? Of course they do!
Doing a radio interview recently, though, I was reminded that some dog owners are still convinced that dogs don’t think, but instead act on instinct and live tethered to the present, in a moment-to-moment way.
That’s what my debate partner, Globe and Mail columnist Sarah Hampson, declared when we participated in an episode of the CBC radio program Tooth and Claw. Our primary task was to engage with one question: Do we love some animals too much? Hampson took the “yes” side and I the “no” position.
Along the way, as we delved into animal thinking and emotion, Hampson said this (though it was cut from the segment that aired):
I would take issue with Barbara’s point that [dogs] are thinking animals. This is where I sort of agree with Cesar Millan [the Dog Whisperer]. He actually talks about how they are an instinctual animal and what we love about them is their instinctual way of being. In other words they react to things that are right in front of them. And I think we all love that about animals. But I find it worrisome when we start saying that they are “thinking.” I just think that they are “being” and that is partly what we love about them. That they don’t think as much as we do.
Now, there at the end, Sarah takes a hard turn and retreats into saying dogs don’t think as much as we do. I’m not anyone would claim dogs think as much as we do! But is she right to worry about a view of dogs as thinking beings?
Have a look at this dog. At first the dog, in swinging from the tree branch, might seem only to be playing, while cheered on by humans. Watch to the end, though, and you’ll see this animal had a goal firmly in mind all along.