Is Your Dog Smarter Than a 2-Year-Old?
FRIDAY My son has taken to kissing the scar left by my back surgery. My dog licks my tears when I cry. Neither wants to see me angry. In all cases they are not exhibiting a fully developed, adult understanding of injury, sadness or anger — but something recognizable.
This sure feels empathetic. Do D and C see others as having qualities like sadness or anger — or selfishness? The research suggests they do. Two recent canine studies showed that dogs who eavesdropped on experimenters who were generous or selfish in sharing food with other people chose to interact with the generous ones.
Human infants appear to do something similar as young as 6 months old. By 18 months they may spontaneously, without solicitation, help an adult who is facing a problem in a task, like trying to reach an object that is out of reach or open a door when his hands are full. Dogs can be trained to do this, but they do not appear to see our problems, our intents, the way that infants do.
On the other hand, what dogs may lack in full understanding of us, they make up for in their tolerance of us. Dogs are infinitely patient. C will wait a minute if I request he do so while I finish pouring boiling water. (A “minute” lasts, variably, 6 seconds or 60.) D will wait for hours upon hours for me to return home.
One study found that dogs were able to delay gratification — waiting to trade food-in-mouth for better food — for as long as 10 minutes. This compares favorably with even 4-year-old children, who, as psychologists showed by asking them to wait to eat a marshmallow placed tantalizingly in front of them, averaged about five minutes.
In the end, the dog and the child overlap in many behaviors. They overlap, for that matter, in their roles in our lives. Mine overlap in my lap on the couch right now. But there are myriad subtle differences between them, the summation of which indicates that to equate their intelligences makes no sense. The child is on his way to something else; the dog is, fairly quickly, there. That is why he is “the dog” and the child is “the 2-year-old.”
There is no ruler that measures both dogs and little boys and girls. Just as a child is more than a young adult, a dog is more than — and much different from — a simple human. You are no more doing your dog a kindness by treating him as a child than you would be in treating your child as a dog. Unless your kid really loves liver treats.