This is an authentic question: ie, I don’t have the answer. But it’s a great question, posed by a seminar attendee, and also by someone who reads the blog. Do dogs think we are mutant dogs? Pathetic replicates who never grow out of our flat, puppy faces (we never grow muzzles) and can’t use our mouths but make up for it endearingly with our cute, floppy paws? And surely they believe we can’t smell–at all. My guy Jim speculated that just as people often assume that animals can’t [fill-in-the-blanks: think in abstractions or strategize or be conscious) because they can’t do it with the depth of skill that we do, perhaps dogs assume we can’t smell anything at all, because we are so horrifically bad at it.
On the one hand, you could argue that dogs behave toward us as they do other dogs: they signal us in ways that are exactly the same as they signal other dogs (not that many dogs don’t behave differently around people as they do around dogs, but that the signals they use are the same signals they use to their own species.) They lick our muzzles, they stare cold and hard into our eyes, they growl and posture using all the same movements and expressions that they use around other dogs. One could argue that this suggests they categorize us as some kind of dog-like creature.
On the other hand, we tend to use the same social signals with dogs as we do people (which gets us in no end of trouble, see The Other End of the Leash!), and we know that dogs are a different species. In addition, dogs have no trouble differentiating different types of dogs (I’m always amused when people ask if dogs can tell a Black Lab from a German Shepherd. Wouldn’t it seem that if we can, they can? They are, after all, dogs, and surely they can tell one another apart more easily than we can! They may not use the same categories as we do.. I highly doubt they separate one another into “Herding” and “Sporting!”, but surely it is obvious to them how profoundly different we are from dogs.) Wouldn’t it be obvious to dogs that we’re NOT dogs? Just our smell alone would make it profoundly obvious.
But, if we’re not disabled dogs, who are we to our dogs? How are we thought of? Ahh… and here’s the real question… Do dogs think of such things at all? Perhaps this is a question a dog has never asked? Perhaps we are just who we are, and dogs have no need to put us into some taxonomic category that makes our brains happy but might be irrelevant to theirs…. but, then, surely they must have some way to identifying living creatures in the world around them. Friend? Foe? Prey? Weird, monster like thing that can not be explained?
This could get circular, but I am very interested in your thoughts on this….
Meanwhile, back at the farm: The birds are emptying the feeders at a heck of rate, I can barely keep them full. Now that it’s gotten colder and many of the insects are gone, the suet and black oil sunflower seed are especially attractive. We have many species coming daily now, the usual Southern Wisconsin mixed species flocks of Black capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice (don’t look at me, I didn’t give them a common species name), White Breasted Nuthatches, Downy, Hairy & Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Goldfinch, Purple or House Finch (have to check, we have had both, haven’t paid enough attention last few days), Blue Jays, Cardinals and Doves. More will come as it gets colder, including the Red Breasted Nuthatch (oh so cute).
Here’s a Chickadee… I thought this photo looked like a painting as much as a photograph:
Here’s the Tufted Titmouse, perched and then with a sunflower seed. Notice how s/he holds the seed on the branch with the feet, and then pecks through the shell and extracts the seed.