Authored by Mellissa Grey

Thinking with the World Thinking with Animals

Since human-beings made their first steps on earth, they have shared their lives with the incredible world of fauna. Over the course of history, humans built relationship with animals. In fact, there is almost no doubt that every second person has or used to have a pet at home.

People take care of animals, and believe they are able to think, feel and be intelligent. The idea has commanded humans’ attentions from the beginning of history. The recent scientific observations prove that animals are able to have cognitive facilities, some of which are superior to humans.

A belief that animals have psychological treats like humans is existent, and it is called anthropomorphism. As people interact with pet animals, such as dogs, the special boundary connection appears. Dogs can understand our language, gestures, mimics, and even read our feelings.

In order to prove that the interaction between people and dogs truly exists, I examined an activity with my friend’s pet - Colt the dog, which is a 1-year-old Labrador retriever. I must admit Colt is a very active young male, full of happiness and adoration that are expressed towards every person he knows, might know or wants to know. Before I meet Colt, my friend shared some useful tips concerning my behavior with the dog that I have been trying to implement.

My friend left us alone with the dog in the backyard. I have started my interaction with Colt with an introduction. I squatted down to be with him at the same level. He ran up to me, happily wagging his tail and trying to lick my face.

Since we were alone in the backyard, Colt decided that we two should play together. Continuing to wag his tail, he brought a small red ball in his mouth and threw it at me. The first step of our rapprochement was completed.

When I reached out to the ball, he immediately picked it up in his mouth, continuing to wag his tail. He was obviously waiting for my next move. Then I decided to talk to him. 'Colt, give me the ball' - I said, holding out my hand. I repeated the command again, still holding out my hand, and came closer.

The ball fell out of his mouth, so I was able to pick it up. Colt did not try to take it from me, and surprisingly, he ran a couple of meters away, took up a stance. I realized that he was waiting for me to throw the ball towards him. I just started to bring the ball up, and Colt began to squat as he was about to jump. After a couple of false moves, knowing he could not take his eyes off the ball, I threw it. The dog ran across the path of the ball, caught it and immediately came to me with it. He wanted me to continue playing. When I looked with intensity into his eyes, hiding the ball behind my back, he started barking loudly. I was astonished, but I thought he was barking with a demand to give him the ball.

Then I wondered what he would do if we include in our game another thing – a blue ball. Colt was amused to see a blue ball in one my hand, and the red one in another. I threw the blue ball, giving him the command to bring it back. As soon as he brought it to me, I threw the red ball. I repeated the command, referring to the color of the object. It went on for some time. Every time Colt executed commands correctly, I praised him. I kept saying “good boy” and stroking his head.

When I threw the two balls at the same time, he ran for a red one. When he came back, victoriously carrying it in his mouth, I suddenly said, 'No, Colt, bring me the blue ball.' He stood there a little bit as if he was trying to interpret my words, then left a ball on the ground and came up to me. I repeated the command 'Bring me the blue ball.' Surprisingly, he ran for the blue ball.

The same experiment worked when I was throwing balls one by one saying 'Bring me the first ball. Bring me the second ball.' I realized that after repeating commands only for a few times, the dog could understand what ball exactly is needed. I tried to focus dog’s attention not only on my words, but on gestures as well.

The experiment came to an end, and it seemed like I was able to understand Colt’s language. Also, he attended to my body language and responded to my moves. I was truly impressed.

The fact is that canine world is non-democratic. If I want any dog to treat me in the same way he treats his owner, I should show him my respect, be patient, calm and non-aggressive. When I have just met the dog, I squatted down to be with him at the same level. Such a simple gesture means that I am friendly towards him. I understood the social cognition capacities of Colt were similar to a 2-year-old child.

Similar to people, dogs receive temporal knowledge with the help of sensory organs. They get used to our language and know how to interpret it. However, dogs widely use their own language; which we might not understand correctly. For instance, Colt the dog actively communicated with me using his body, not his tail only. His looks, the lip and ear flicks, the yawn, the head turn and the bark are also the means of communication with me.

After this experiment I was asking myself why the dog had been barking at me during a game. I thought it was because I hid the ball behind my back. However, my friend explained to me later that dogs do not like to look directly in the eye. Moreover, direct stare is like an exhibition of bad manners if we translate it on our language.

To sum up, it was surprisingly easy to anthropomorphize Colt as I actually felt he could understand me, my emotions, intensions and words. Dogs truly perceive the world through interactions, sounds and feelings. Thus, people have to admit that we are not the only God’s creatures with intelligence, feelings and consciousness.

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