My biochemist husband laughed out loud when I explained to him that I was keeping a frequently ransacked wastebasket on the floor as part of my training our little dog to develop a capacity for conscience. In other words, I know Marie is not going to upset the wastebasket in hopes of finding cookie crumbs while I am watching her or even in the same room. The conscience thing would be to get her not to upset it when I am not watching.
There is much to understand in evaluating which dogs possess styles of cognition that are helpful in these specialized areas. The Duke Canine Cognition Center is one of the sites for the exploration of dog cognition or “dognition.”You may be laughing, too, to read this preposterous idea, but the field of dog cognition studies is being taken quite seriously by animal psychologists and biological anthropologists. The science is being used in the training of service dogs, dogs for bomb detection, and in search and rescue missions. All too often we see comfort dogs visiting places like Newtown, Boston, and Moore, Oklahoma, to bring something to humans that we cannot even do for ourselves.
So many new books are popping up on understanding our pets, and especially dogs. Without the ability to converse in a common language, dogs pay attention to many subtle clues from their owners to come to an “understanding” of them and their ways. Maybe we will be better able to understand ourselves as we seek to understand them and especially their capacity for unconditional love. I do not know if Marie will ever leave the wastebasket alone, but I am interested in getting to know how her mind works.