Saturday, April 30, 2011

Can Dogs Think?

When I was in college, I had a biology teacher who was thoroughly convinced that animals could not think. We had an ongoing argument that caused us to consume astonishing amounts of coffee in the university inn while we presented our latest arguments. He said that non-human mammals reacted by moving toward food, or away from pain. The things that made it seem as if they were thinking were patterns hard-wired into their brain.

Anyone who has ever had a dog knows better, although the professor was correct in his claim that a dog is focused primarily on food and companionship, almost as much as most of the people I know. Whenever we start to leave our house, our dog gives us this look that says, ‘you’re leaving and I will never see you again.’ Reassurance that we will return never seems to work and usually results in a loud sigh that communicates the idea of ‘yeah right, like I should believe that.’

Food seems to be a close second to the worry over the human members of the family becoming lost. ‘You forgot to feed me,’ becomes a point of contention, as does the quality of the food placed in the food bowl. When I left the restaurant a few days ago, I wrapped up the remains of my T-bone steak and carried it home to Rocky. After sniffing the offering for several seconds, he swallowed the strip of meat without bothering to chew. He then looked at the bowl and back at my eyes several times to let me know that I was improving with my selection of food. Rather than assuming that dogs don’t think, maybe we should work on the problem of people not thinking. If I interpret Rocky’s expression correctly, he is saying, ‘this is what I want to eat. Do you get it?’

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