Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do Dogs Have a Conscience?

This fellow is "The Doctor," informally called "Doc" or "Sissy Boy." The latter appellation comes about because he is afraid of his own shadow.

Doc is three. He is 99% house-trained. His lapses come when he is nervous, displayed by watering the tail of the vertical blinds on the door to the deck and when he is not kept on a regular schedule. Luckily, the errant little pile is deposited on 6-square feet of ceramic tile surrounding the interior of the front door. He must have a potty break before bedtime and immediately after breakfast.

This morning, however, breakfast completed, Doc encountered what country folk call a "toad strangler" -- heavy, heavy rain accompanied by strong winds -- when I opened the back door. He stood. And waited.

I said, "Head on out, Doc. Do your business." He responded by looking over his shoulder.

I busied myself with sprucing up the kitchen, all the while leaving the back door cracked so that he could venture out into the thunderstorm to accomplish his business. Minutes passed, and I began to move about more, venturing to the computer with a fresh cup of tea, picking up newspapers, all the while watching Doc. He would stand near the open back door, his shoulders hunched his ears laid back, every molecule in his body crying out, "I don't wanna ... "

Finally, he retreated to the bedroom and crawled on his blanket. I watched him sleep for a few minutes, and then I moved to a different part of the house carrying dirty laundry to the utility room.

When I returned to the bedroom, Doc was sleeping peacefully away in the same spot, but then as I rolled back to the kitchen for another cup of tea, I spied it -- The Deposit. On the tile surrounding the front door.

Sometime when out of my sight, Doc has slipped quietly into the front room -- and past the open door leading to the deck and the back yard -- and refreshed himself in warm, dry confines of his ceramic bathroom.

Here's an interesting take on the matter from the New York Times ...
Dr. Horowitz found that behaviors associated with the “guilty look” — slinking away, ducking the head and dropping the tail, among others — occurred regardless of whether the dog had disobeyed or not. Instead, what was important was the owner’s reaction. There were far more “guilty” behaviors when the owners scolded the dogs. The findings are published in the journal Behavioral Processes.
What's interesting to me in relation to this morning's incident is that Doc displayed the "guilt behavior" before he violated the rules (as he understands them).

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