Name:Harrison Location:United States

The Original Lovable Little Fuzzball

Here's the straight stuff.

The adventures of Harrison are true.
Try a few of his Crunchy Bites for a taste.
--Alpha Human Mom

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Thinkin' Dog Speaks

Readin' around the news cycle these past coupla' weeks is showin' me more and more how stupid humans can be. More important, it's shown how easily ya' can be trained to believe the most ridiculous things. Some flea-ridden Demo-cat tosses a stick, yells "fetch," and waaayy too many of ya' race off, tongues draggin', to grab it. Geeze. I figured out the you-threw-it-you-get-it angle years ago.

That's why it really gets old bein' called "dumb" just 'cause I don't speak your language. Talk about totally un-PC! How many of you speak a foreign language, huh? Ya' might understand a little but ya' sure can't answer 'em, can ya'? And then there's that habit you have of shoutin' in the ear of humans who don't speak English, like they're deaf or somethin'. That's almost as bad as the pwecious widdle dawggie routine you pull on us. I'm not your pwecious anything. I'm a real, live son of a bitch, which is probably what you'll be callin' me right after I whizz on your shoes.

Now along comes this guy, floggin' his book, and claimin' dogs are pretty much brainless idiots.

Do Dogs Think? "Owners assume their pet's brain works like their own. That's a big mistake. This has been adapted from Katz on Dogs, which is being published this week."

Yeah, well Mr. Katz (and please note that name) makes a big mistake implyin' dogs don't think. Of course we think. To think otherwise is, ah…thoughtless. Bein' hampered by a name (and a thought process) of the fe-lyin' persuasion, Mr. Katz expresses himself poorly. Maybe he meant to ask "Do Dogs Reason?" Now that's a whole 'nother question.

Just for the record, Mr. Katz, yes, dogs think. 'Course some only think food, food, cat, chase, squirrel, chase, food, sleep, sleep, food, food, food, WALK!, sleep, sleep, sleep…. You get the idea. It's what dogs like me think about that should worry you.

"Blue, Heather's normally affectionate and obedient Rottweiler, began tearing up the house shortly after Heather went back to work as an accountant after several years at home… "Blue is angry with me for leaving her alone. She's punishing me. She always looks guilty when I come home, so she knows she's been bad. She knows she shouldn't be doing those things." [Heather said.]… And her vet agreed, suggesting "separation anxiety" and prescribing anti-anxiety medication for Blue."

Of course the vet agreed--he was getting' paid to agree--and sell that useless "anti-anxiety medication." What neither one considered is most of us dogs are just two-year-old kids. With lots 'n lots of hair.

"Heather also hired a trainer, who confirmed the diagnosis… Heather's mother even recalled Heather, as a child, throwing tantrums when she went off to work. Heather and Blue had become so close, she joked, that they were acting alike…"

See? Trust a Mom to get it without knowin' she got it. Blue was just bein' an oversized two-year-old.

"A month later, though,…Blue had relapsed… [S]he was showing signs of aggression with people and other dogs and refusing to obey even simple commands… On one late-night walk, Blue attacked a terrier walking nearby, opening wounds that needed stitches…"

Ah…did no one consider there might be side effects from that anti-anxiety medicine? Even I know it makes some humans erractic and aggressive--'specially teen-age type humans. Canines can take the same medicine as humans--so why is anyone surprised when they also have the same reactions? Talk about dumb. Then, to make things worse, Heather contacted Mr. Katz for behavior advice.

"I took notes, asked questions, then called a canine behaviorist at Cornell and explained the problem in as much detail as I could. "Everybody says the dog was reacting to her going back to work," I suggested.

"Everybody is probably wrong," was his blunt comeback. "It's 'theory of mind.' This is what often happens when humans assume that dogs think the way we do."

And you, Mr. High-And-Mighty Canine Behaviorist from Cornell, are definitely wrong.

(Contiued in Read the Rest!)

We do think the way humans think; two-year-old humans, that is, who just wanna' have their kind of fun when Mom's not lookin'.

What makes that guy an authority on how we think, anyway? I mean, he's only guessin' we don't think the same as humans, and he's forgettin' we're both animals! Hasn't this guy ever read Lord of the Flies? Without all your fancy-dancy society (and lots more fur), you'd be the same as us. Still don't believe me? Then read this. Or this. (Okay, that last one is reeeeaaally long and full of scientific stuff so ya' might wanna' pass.)

"His analysis: "Being angry at the human and behaving punitively—that's not a thought sequence even remotely possible, given a dog's brain."

Crap. Even a fe-lyin' understands the they'll-pay-for-leavin'-me-alone rule. They could hack up that furball anywhere. It's no accident it happens on your pillow.

Just so ya' know, I understand completely when idiots call me "cute" or "precious," and plan my revenge accordingly. Ya' gotta be patient. Wait 'til they're not payin' attention, then bam! Can't imagine it's too pleasant spendin' the day with a soggy foot. I'll be happy to demonstrate the technique for ya', Mr. Kitty-Katz.

"The likely scenario is that the dog is simply frightened."

You're talkin' about a Rottweiler here, remember? Now they can be wussies sometimes (Dad chased one halfway across a field once when the fool made a lunge at AHM) but they're pretty good guard dogs. 'Course belongin' to someone named "Heather" could make a difference, but the Rotties I know are not scaredy-cats.

"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."

And fe-lyings don't? Pu-leese. Uprooted houseplants. Shredded curtains. Clawed up sofa cushions. Lamps booted off tables. Sound familiar?

"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?

Oh, we know. Trust me on that. And we learn from our mistakes. (Unlike France who's been makin' the same mistakes since Napolean was shipped off to St. Helena.) There are a bunch of us livin' here and sometimes there are accidents. Unlike what Mr. High Mucky-Muck Cornell canine behaviorist claims, we know damn well which action was wrong. Whoever screws up when AHM's home has to take a "time out" under the green chair…on the far side of the room…away from everyone else…not to mention away from any treats AHM is handin' out.

Now if one of us does somethin' wrong while we're alone, when AHM gets home she stalks into the room and asks "Okay, who pooped in the kitchen?" The guilty party immediately slinks off beneath the green chair. Yeah, even me, 'tho I almost never do anythin' wrong. Sometimes, though, AHM knows I've been in the garbage and calls me out. (I swear she inventories the trash can!)

"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?"

We canines have no trouble knownin' the time. (Okay, we're a little slow figurin' out that Standard Time/Daylight Time business.) Still, in this household we know when 6 pm rolls around--and so does AHM. But that's not all. We know when AHM's students are supposed to be here--day and time. My kid Hem even positions himself under the piano bench about fifteen minutes before the appointed hour, so he'll have a front row seat in case there's any singin' to be done. (No, he doesn't lie there every day, and no, AHM isn't in the studio.)

My Dad was the best, though. He knew exactly when AHM's alarm was gonna' ring, and woke her up two minutes earlier. As the story goes, the first time that sucker went off when he was a pup, Dad went straight up in the air and fell off the bed. Since Dad had almost no learning curve, he made sure that never happened again.

"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."

Hmmmm… Boredom, eh? Rotties aren't known for their imaginations, that's for sure. Sounds like Heather forgot to supply any distractions, like lots of chew bones and talk radio. Then again, maybe she tuned in Air America… That would explain a lot!

"I was familiar with the "theory of mind" notion the behaviorist was referring to… The phrase refers to a belief each of us has about the way others think. Simply, it says that since we are aware and self-conscious, we think others—humans and animals—are, too. There is, of course, enormous difference of opinion about whether this is true."

An intelligent writer would ask a canine like me for their opinion before passin' judgment. But this is Mr. Katz so the fix is in.

"When I used to leave my border collie Orson alone in the house, uncrated, he learned to open the refrigerator with his nose, remove certain food items, open the plastic container, and consume its contents. Then he'd squirrel away the empty packages. …[W]hat changed his behavior was that I began to crate him when I went out. He has not raided the fridge since. Yet he could easily sneak in and do that while he's uncrated and I'm occupied outdoors or elsewhere in the house. Is he no longer wily? Or is he simply less anxious?"

Um, how could he raid the fridge when he was in a crate? I got some news for ya', Katz, ole' man. Orson wasn't less anxious with you around. He was more anxious about not endin' up in that friggin' crate!

"There's no convincing evidence I'm aware of, from any reputable behaviorist or psychologist, that suggests dogs can replicate human thought processes: use language, think in narrative and sequential terms, understand human minds, or share humans' range of emotions."

Many behaviorists and psychologists think Christians are wacko 'cause of their beliefs, too. Ya' really wanna' trust their opinions? Truth is, we do all those things--'bout as well as a two-year old human. When was the last time you had a substantive talk with your two-year-old kid? Besides, it's not our fault you don't speak our language. Can't see ya' ever made an effort to learn.

"Yet that remains a powerful, pervasive view of dogs,… It's almost impossible not to lapse into theory-of-mind reasoning when it comes to our dogs. After all, most of us have no other way in which to grasp another creature's behavior.

Ever hear the expression "actions speak louder than words?" How'd'ya' know when your baby needs somethin'? Does he/she call ya' on the baby intercom and say "Sorry to bother you, pater, but there seems to be an excessive amount of dampness in my nether regions that needs to be addressed." Don't think so. They probably shriek bloody murder 'til ya' show up with a dry nappy. Better yet, how'd'ya' know they don't like those strained turnips ya' insist are good for 'em? Bet you're wearin' more than the kid is swallowin'.

We canines communicate the same way. When AHM is plannin' on goin' out, one of us always climbs into her lap, as if sittin' on her will keep her home. We're not too good on comparative weight issues sometimes, but we make up for it in looks. Others of us will just happen to wander into her path to the doorway with some vague notion of blockin' her exit. 'Course it's not tough to step over a foot-high terrier, so it's more a symbolic protest than anythin' else. But she gets the message.

How can one even begin to imagine what's going on inside a dog's head? Most of the time, I don't know why my dogs do what they do."

Well, d'uh. How does a jerk who admits bein' almost totally ignorant 'bout canines get a book deal to write about dogs? Gotta' be the name.

Katz goes on and on and on, then ends up admittin' he hasn't got a clue about canines.

"I am astonished at how little it takes to please them, how simple their lives can be if we don't complicate them."

Not quite, pal. It's really you humans who need to keep it simple. We love the new and unexpected. Ever known us to turn down a run 'round the block in the afternoon? Or a ride in the car just for the hell of it? Truth is, you don't have time 'cause you're ruled by that clock you think we can't read.

We can read it just fine--and we know sometimes ya' gotta' ignore it.

posted by Harrison at 4:26 PM


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