There is something called “learned irrelevance” and if you live with dogs you have experienced this my friends. You have also experienced the opposite: your dog realizing that what is happening at the moment is frankly quite relevant to them.
Learned irrelevance refers to our dogs becoming keen observers of circumstance that mean nothing relevant from their perspective. For example: you turn the TV on after a long day at work and your dog has learned that when the TV is on he won’t be going for walkies -no tossing of the favorite ball either.
On the other hand, we have all experienced and even smiled at the fact that our dogs respond with exquisite punctuality to us putting our “walking-the-dog shoes” or in my case, the locking of my closet or just the sound of my leg going thru my pants as I get ready to go “outside”. One of the biggest joy I experience is seeing my dogs getting super excited as we utter the phrase: Does anybody here want to go outside????? or the short form: “Let’s go outsiiiiiideeee”. We know what the answer will be: YES, YES, YES! We always want to go outside.
If you think about this, irrelevant or non-irrelevant circumstances are sort of a great thing. It allow our dogs to relax – as it is the case of my two hounds lying on their beds just after their breakfast as we I give them a rest so they can digest their food before we go on a hike or toss the ball around.
Repetition and keen observation has taught them that when “mom” sits at the computer, nothing fun really happens, instead they can take a snooze. But the moment I get off my chair I have a couple of dogs watching my every move and ones that are excited following me into my bedroom in hopes of witnessing the moment they have patiently waited for…. me putting my shoes on.
You see, this relevant/irrelevant scenario is actually part of a bigger picture phenomena. This phenomenon has at least a couple of ethological facts:
1. Dogs are always assessing their surroundings for safe/unsafe clues. In other words, they are constantly assessing if a scenario falls under “friend” or “foe”. All evolutionary irrelevant stuff.
2. Dogs are always looking out for number one. That is themselves. Ah, you got to love these amazing creatures who never miss a beat when it comes to them making sure that they remain safe and that they get the best bone, bed, scratch, etc. in the house.
Some folks resent dogs when they are just taking care of business; that is their business. Instead, they much rather have a dog that wants to please them. Ah, come on people! Why? Why do we insist of making a caricature of real dogs? Why can we just appreciate the fact that they MUST look out for themselves as they assess daily what’s in it for them? Don’t we just do the same??????
Why then the double standard? The answer, I am afraid, lies in the sad but very powerful fact that humans, or at least most humans, subscribe to the idea that any other being except for the “precious” human race was put on earth to either entertain, fulfill our ego’s desires and expectations or work for our benefit.
But isn’t time that we begin to acknowledge that our dogs deserve to live lives that resonate with their own nature? Isn’t time that we STOP engaging in infantile requests of our dogs and instead we begin to CELEBRATE their dogness?