Monday, January 9, 2012

Do dogs have an imagination?

I've been hearing for years that dogs are unable to imagine things. They're only driven by instinct. They're not like people and shouldn't be treated like people. Well, I agree you can't reason with a dog quite the same way you can with people, but imagination? I say hell's yeah they do!

Take my dog Kinsey, for example. She makes stuff up all the time and if that's not an imagination I don't know what is. Perhaps it takes a really smart dog to have what it takes to mentally imagine something. Kinsey has quite the vocabulary for a 3-year-old border bully, and I think she's learning how to spell, too. It's best not to say B-A-L-L in her presence or you'll have a slobbery tail-wagging 50 pound canine up in your grill.

I'm no dog behaviorist, but I must say my dog has taught me a few things about dog behavior. She's stubborn, willful, mischevious, playful and affectionate. And very sensitive, which is where I think her imagination comes into play.

Kinsey has irrational fears, and one might think that's a canine defense mechanism, which it could be. But some of the stuff she's afraid of makes no sense so I think she's making it all up.

For instance, one day my husband and I were walking Kinsey, like we do every day, and we passed some kids with a kite. Kinsey was very excited to see the kids because she adores children, but when she saw the kite flutter high above her head, she cowered and nearly pulled me off my feet trying to get away. What would cause such fear? A kite never threatened or hurt her before, so I'm thinking she imagined a future event that involved a kite swooping down to either attack her or lift her up and carry her away. She's okay with birds, though she doesn't much care for helicopters.

There's also a certain area on our regular walk that always makes her drop her tail, lower her head, pull her ears back, and make a beeline to get away as fast as possible. That all started when the dog in a neighbor's backyard got its leash wrapped around a chair and it dragged it across the concrete porch, making a loud scraping noise. The little dog that weighed about 10 pounds soaking wet didn't pose a threat, didn't bark, just sat down, but the sound of that chair scraping the concrete freaked out Kinsey and she remembers. Now every time we pass that house she behaves like that chair is coming to get her. She also recognizes the dog and and if we see it on our walks, she cowers, though the dog couldn't care less about her. I blame her behavior on an active doggy imagination.

Does your dog or cat or horse or other pet have an imagination? Want to share some examples? I'd love to hear it. :)


Shannon Baker said...

Wouldn't you need an imagination to dream? The pooch I dogsit for had such a great dream last night. She was obviously barking at something but it sounded like a whole bunch of bubbles popping in the dark bedroom. Cracked me up.

Bryn Greenwood said...

I definitely think dogs have imaginations. For instance, one of my dogs' favorite games is called Zombie (learned from Amy Bai, can you imagine?) It involves me chasing them around the house in slo-mo, while making menacing noises and gestures. Now, they know I won't hurt them. So, why run from me? Oh, because it's fun to pretend they need to. So they can clearly imagine a scenario in which this would happen.

They like the game so much, they even play it with each other.

Kathryn Koller- UFR said...

I'm with Shannon, you have to have imagination and we have three dogs who all dream big time. Apollo I would say is our most vocal dreamer, we always joke he is chasing bunnies, his feet move he makes little noises and sometimes even barks a little.

Alexis Morgan said...

Years ago, I made French toast for breakfast, something I rarely do. As soon as I set it on the table, my dog wanted to go out. I waited to let her back in. As soon as she came in the back door, she made a beeline for the dining room, jumped on one chair, up on the table, snagged my toast, bounced on the opposite chair and onto the floor. She was upstairs, gobbling my breakfast in a matter of seconds. She'd never done anything like that before and never did again. But she'd clearly been plotting hard to carry off such a perfect attack!

Ally Broadfield said...

Of course they do! Like others have said, why would they bark and run in their dreams if they didn't have an imagination? My dogs also think the squirrels in our yard have created an army and will be attacking our house at any moment. And have you ever watched them play with toys? One of my dogs has certain rituals he plays out with each of his toys (all different). He has to be imagining they're interacting with him, otherwise why would he bother to differentiate between them?

Karen Duvall said...

Oh I love all these great dog stories! I think someone should compile a book called "Games Dog Play." Ha! That would be so fun to read.

You know that expression about herding cats? As if it can't be done? Ha! On the contrary. It's Kinsey's mission to herd the cats and she does a good job of it, too. However, the smallest of my three cats (6 pounds) doesn't take kindly to barking and will smack Kinsey a good one in the face if she gets too loud. It's amusing to see this tiny cat bully the dog.

Anonymous said...

Cool post, Karen! I cower every time I have to get up for work!

Our only cat tears through the house a lot. I often wonder a) what's she chasing? 2) what piece of meat did she just drag off the counter (she's a meat eater!), lastly) what an active imagination she must have! When we had our black lab, he would do similar outside every so often, running around, and I often wondered what went on inside his head. And when he'd look at us with his big, brown yes, I wondered what he was seeing, because they were always so bright and full of seemingly quiet intelligence. Our other (now deceased) cat used to be a nature lover and would actually go about our back yard smelling roses and other flowers! It was the coolest thing! Never heard or saw that before!

There are such dimensions and depths to animals...if we only gave them some credit. Thanks for this post, Karen!

Janet Lane said...

Fun topic, Karen. My Chihuahua/Rat Terrior mix, Gabby, dreams in her sleep, too, the running paws and little yips that make us laugh, which wakes her up. She plays predator with a platypus Beanie Baby. Yep, she has an active imagination!

Sarah Raplee said...

What a fun post, Karen!

Besides dreaming and games, we had a cat once who adopted an abandoned kitten and nursed it with her own. Seems like there is some imagination involved there.

Our dog has an irrational fear of men in hats (at least it seems irrational to us; she's a rescue dog.) And she hates Jack Russell Terriers for unknown reasons.

Claire L. Fishback said...

I just want to say your Kinsey is gorgeous! I have a Lab-Pitt named Belle and she has the same shaped head as Kinsey. :)

She's very expressive.