Russell has called our attention to another experiment as reported by New Scientist which I quote below.
NS: “LIKE children with their hands in the cookie jar, dogs steal food quietly to make sure they don’t get caught. The finding adds to evidence that dogs can work out what others are thinking. Shannon Kundey of Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and colleagues, gave 40 dogs, which had previously been trained not to eat food left on a plate, a chance to take food from inside two containers. Both containers were fitted with bells, but on one container the bells were muted. When someone was watching, the dogs took food from both containers equally. But if the watcher looked away, for instance by putting their head between their legs, the dogs went for the silent container. This suggests they knew they could get a meal without the watcher hearing them (Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol 126, p 45). Kundey says her results back up other evidence that dogs can represent for themselves how others perceive their actions. For example, previous studies had found that dogs are more likely to take food when people are not watching them. Marc Bekoff at the University of Colorado at Boulder says the findings are more proof that humans’ mental abilities are not unique. “Great apes do amazing things, but so do other animals,” he says.”
As the article is written I’m confused and I haven’t been able to find clarification on/line. These dogs were trained not to take food from under the container, and yet they took food from both containers equally if researcher was watching. (Was this before being trained? But the article specifically says “previously.” And if they took food after training, did they not do so sneakily?) Then, if researcher wasn’t watching only then did the training take effect with the dogs acting in response to the judgment inculcated through training that they weren’t supposed to take food from the forbidden plate.
If I can clear this up I also need to know how the dogs were trained not to take food from under the plate, as well as how they came to learn that some of the bells were muted. Before I venture an opinion I would like to find the answers to these questions.
However having made that disclaimer about not having all the facts or seeing a video which is always telltale, and going from what I presume the dogs might have behaved like, I feel I can nevertheless make the following definitive comments. A long time ago I watched an espionage thriller that revolved around a magic trick that was intended to misdirect the other side. The hero was consulting a magician who told the man flummoxed as he was by the sleight of hand being conducted, to always remember that he was dealing with a magic trick and that whatever he was thinking was his mind being tricked. Likewise, the intellect always tricks our mind to seeing thoughts as the only explanation for complex behavior. In my experience these experiments always prove the opposite of the intellectual consensus that immediately collects around it. Always bear in mind that the dog’s mind is an energy circuit, whereby other beings, and even inanimate objects become incorporated into its state-of-mind and as a function of its “self,” indeed even material objects of matter can become part of its consciousness. So it’s only in the human mind that the researcher isn’t seen by the dog as a feature of the dog’s frame of reference, a part of its very mind. On the other hand by seeing the dog’s mind as a self-contained intelligence, we immediately think we see a dog acting “sneaky.”
The key to this experiment is understanding Pavlov’s research. In a dog’s mind as an energy circuit, the vibration of things that are made to stand out become associated with the essence of the thing, and this happens according to the strength of its hunger. Every moment has frame of reference which is organized around a negative-as-access-to-a-positive channel, this is a vibrational value, with the intensity value being the negative and the grounding value being the positive. The degree to which the intensity is grounded into the positive, is the resonance value, like the pitch on a guitar string. The dog tries to resonate with the negative in order to gain access to the positive and behaviorally this means becoming its equal and opposite, and/or aligning with it and mirroring it. It does not mean constructing a theory of mind for what it is attracted to. (If this were true, then we would have to say that dogs are constructing a theory of mind for a ball when it is amusing itself by playing with a ball. The ball is a living thing as far as the dog is concerned because it projects its “self” into it. Tom Hank’s character in “Cast Away” evolved a relationship with “Wilson” in this way because he projected his self into it and evolved feelings for it as a reflection of his own mind.)
In Pavlov’s dogs the ringing of the bell became associated with the meat, which means with access to the meat and so the most intense variable was the human as the negative, with the bell’s vibration becoming resonant with that access channel. The bell rings, the dog experiences pressure because it is tasting meat (drooling) but there is no meat in its gut to complete the circuit, and so it vibrates and radiates a lot of behavior which we observe as a state of excitement. It associates the ringing of the bell with the researcher’s eyes and the meat as relief from pressure, and vibrating intensely in a state of excitement as the means of resonating with that frame of reference which then leads to grounding and reduction of pressure. The dog is giving the human credit for the meat, and the vibration of the bell the most overt resonating variable that connects the negative to positive. (This is also why dogs howl.)
This modern experiment is that same energetic circuit in reverse and I find it especially ironic that a bell is being used. The dog is seeking to relieve the pressure from the person’s eyes by keeping the bell FROM ringing. The dog has no idea that it is not supposed to get the meat, it learned that if it vibrated too intensely like Pavlov’s dog getting excited, it was corrected, i.e. disconnected from its “self.” It didn’t even learn a cause and effect linkage, rather by vibrating too intensely it became the object-of-attention and this caused it to have to internalize drive and absorb stress. Innately in response, it then flipped polarity and muted its “self” in order to focus on the object of attraction and not become object-of-attention because bearing the brunt of focused energy disconnected it from its “self.” Even so, it’s still giving the human credit for the meat, but it is dampening its body as a resonating chamber because as long as it wants the meat it is feeling vulnerable, and can’t let anything into its consciousness which will cause it to vibrate too intensely, so it avoids anything that vibrates (metallic and plastic sounds are especially predatory, paradoxically even more than gunshots as many deer hunters can attest who fired and fired at an unsuspecting deer, but it didn’t take flight until the sound of a new cartridge clinking into the chamber sent that same deer flying. The deer had no idea it was being fired upon, and it had no idea that the metallic clink was a source of danger, the sharp metallic sound as a predatory aspect collapsed the state of attraction and that’s why it fled.) In other words, the dog is acting “sneaky” TO STAY IN RESONANCE WITH THE RESEARCHER, not in defiance of the human. It would be more accurate to say the dog is trying to keep the food from vibrating, which is the same as saying the dog is trying to keep its “self” from vibrating. Because of earlier training, it didn’t learn that it wasn’t supposed to take the meat, it learned that flipping polarity to a human who was acting so dynamic, i.e. active and direct, by becoming the equal/opposite, i.e. reactive and indirect, was the vibrational tone that represented access channel to the meat. It is not sneaking to get the meat, it is trying to remain in harmony with the human as access channel to the meat. It avoids the bell because it would vibrate its “self” and make it the object-of-attention, the recipient of focused energy. It has no idea what kind of mind is capable of focusing energy and making it the object-of-attention, but if you have ever seen a dog avoid a camera, it is because it is perceiving the lens as an intense predator focusing energy on it and it does so innately and because it isn’t capable of thinking, but trying to go by feel and it can’t feel an access channel.
I’m not sure the following variation on the experiment would resolve my objection, but it could confirm it. The researchers should try the “Clever Hans” approach and remove the researcher to a closet in the room with which dog is allowed to become fully familiarized as connected to the main room, which shouldn’t be hard for a dog to grasp if it’s capable of a theory-of-mind construct for another living being. Now if the dog had acted bold and “stole” the meat by acting like it was doing nothing wrong (which is my favorite story of how some American POWs escaped a prison concentration camp in Germany during WW2, they got a tape measure and some tools and measured their way right through the camp gate and into the forest while the guards watched them from their towers. They acted like they were doing nothing wrong because given that they were capable of generating a theory of mind they realized that being obvious was the best way to avoid raising suspicions in the mind of their guards) now that would be something. Fortunately for those of us who want to live with a dog, they can’t think, otherwise, we’d be in serious trouble. So two cheers for the temerity of modern behavioral researchers. Let’s hope for our dogs sake they’re wrong.