Our dog Guinness has brought home the truth of the quip that cats are teenagers, dogs are toddlers.
His engine has two settings: "full throttle" and "off." We got him two and a half years ago as an eleven-month-old rescue, so he has settled down a little as compared to the irrepressible puppy exuberance he came with. Which is a bit of a relief. Handling seventy pounds' worth of irrepressible puppy exuberance can be a little exhausting.
He is never content unless he's interacting with either me or my wife. "Will you please go entertain yourself for a while?" is a common phrase heard around Chez Bloomgarden-Bonnet. And he doesn't just want to interact with us any old way; it has to be exactly the right way. He loves to play fetch -- can do so for hours on end -- but not if we're standing on the patio. No, throwing the ball into the lawn from the patio is not the proper way. A true game of fetch must be played from a seated position, in one of the lawn chairs next to the pond. I kid you not. From the patio, he'll chase the ball once, pick it up, and then stare at us with an expression like, "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?" Move a hundred yards in a westward direction to the lawn chairs by the pond, and he will happily retrieve over and over. And over and over and over.
No, I don't get it, either.
Be that as it may, he is extraordinarily sensitive to our moods, tone of voice, and body language, and seems to watch us constantly for cues about what is going on. We can talk about him without using any obvious clue-words like his name, or even dog or play or ball, and he immediately knows (to judge by the fact that his tail will start wagging, even if he appeared to be sound asleep). When we talk to him directly, he stares at us with this eager expression, like he really wants to understand every word we're saying. If it's a bit above his head, he gives us the Canine Head-Tilt of Puzzlement:
He's also one of the most affectionate dogs I've ever known. Like I said, his number one priority is interacting with us as much as possible.
Most fascinating of all, puppies seem to come equipped with at least some level of a "theory of mind" -- knowledge that their own perspective isn't shared by everyone, and that the world would look different through the eyes of another. One of the most rudimentary theory-of-mind tests is to point at a treat on the floor that is visually hidden from the dog -- i.e., you can see it, the dog can't. Wolves don't respond to this at all; dogs usually pick up on it right away. And it's a more sophisticated response than it seems at first. To figure out what pointing means, the dog has to think, "If I was standing where (s)he is, sight-lining down the arm toward the floor, where would it be indicating?""Dogs are born with this innate ability to understand that we're communicating with them and we're trying to cooperate with them," Salomons said, in an interview with Science Daily.
"This study really solidifies the evidence that the social genius of dogs is a product of domestication," said Brian Hare, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke, senior author of the study. "It's this ability that makes dogs such great service animals. It is something they are really born prepared to do."