Canine Thought Experiment

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.

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Published July 26, 2010 by Kevin Behan

7 responses to “Canine Thought Experiment”

  1. sean says:

    this is my take on how the experiment is setup…

    i think that the dogs had previously been trained to not take food from a plate. how, i’m not sure. most likely, corrected by their owners. the containers substitute for the plate in the experiment. there are no plates in the experiment. most likely ,the dogs can eat from the containers freely and learn that one makes noise and one doesn’t.

    that’s when the person comes into play. when the person is looking the dog picks a container arbitrarily (w/ or w/out bells making noise). when the person is not looking, the frequency of choice for the muted bell container goes up… suggesting that the dogs know which container makes noise and that it wants to be sneaky about taking the cookie.

  2. kbehan says:

    Therefore, BECOMING the object of attention is the physical memory of being corrected. I would like to see a video and see if there is some tentativeness or eye contact as the dog approaches the container with the alert human present and then gradually the dog overcomes the presence of the human who is not covering their eyes and so is indifferent to increasing vibration. But when the human is hiding their eyes, the dog isn’t getting any access-channel-open feedback and seeks to not vibrate as it takes the meat since becoming object-of-attention is the key element in how the dog formed the earlier association that it shouldn’t “steal” from a plate. Notice that electrifying charge we get as someone turns to make eye contact. I’ve also noticed that when one dog is “grazing” and not making direct eye contact with a dog that is food defensive, this is a profound trigger to lunge at it, like the cat striking the prey when it isn’t making eye contact.

  3. Heather says:

    Of what significance is it that the dogs were trained not to take food from a plate, as the experiment doesn’t mention plates? Also were they all trained by the same person in the same way? If the significance of the training is that the dogs were taught not to steal the food, then the training was not effective at all.

    I would think that besides the “true” reason the dogs behaved the way they did (and there aren’t any stats given to make more sense of what “more often” means, and with respect to how many dogs) there would be multiple other plausible explanations given the seeming number of variables. EG the dogs were startled by the sounds of the bells, but when people were watching and the energy projected onto the dogs shifted their feeling of energetic balance, their physical center of gravity, the sound of the bells counterbalanced that and that created emotional balance. Not that what I said makes sense, but maybe as much sense as leaping to the conclusion that the dogs were thinking about what people were thinking about their actions.

  4. I’d need to see more data on where and how the experiment was done. And, obviously, the study would have to repeated a number of times with different test subjects, different researchers, and would have to be done in different locations before the raw data — minus any obvious misinterpretations of what it “means” — would hold any weight.

    And while I still don’t get the idea of the negative being the access to the positive, I’m sure Kevin’s right about that in some way, but I still can’t wrap my mind around what it is.

    That said, this behavior seems similar, on a certain level, to a fairly common phenomenon of the dog who waits till his owners are asleep before climbing into bed with them.

    Absent a ToM, how does that happen?

    In the broadest strokes, the dog’s social instincts have given them very sensitive “antennae” for reading energy. Is there a difference in energy between an owner who’s wide awake (active, or + levels of energy) and who’s fast asleep (absent or – levels)? I would say that, from the dog’s pov, there definitely is a difference, a substantial one, in fact. (Stanley Coren, of all people, wrote a convincing article about how dogs can sense when someone is dying; what is that about except having the ability to sense the waning energy inherent to that biological process?)

    So being able to read the owner’s energy is step one. Step two is that, over time, and with experience, the dog learns that when the owner is lying in bed but is still in an active (+) state, the dog gets pushed off the bed. But when the owner is in a passive (-) state, he doesn’t. He also learns that certain ways of approaching the bed (based on a simple ability to register how his own energy does or doesn’t cause a perturbation in his owner’s energy state) can sometimes change the passive (-) to an active (+) state, which results in the owner pushing the dog off the bed.

    In this model, the dog’s “sneaky” behavior is based on a) the ability to read the owner’s energy states and b) past conditioning. That’s it.

    In terms of the food-stealing experiment, as Kevin has pointed out the sound of a bell is not dissimilar to the sound of a cartridge going into a rifle chamber, which might scare off a deer. (For a deer, the report of a rifle may be similar to a tree branch breaking or a thunderclap, natural noises that generally pose no danger.) For dogs, the sound of a bell is somewhat jarring. And for most dogs it holds a connection between a low energy state — being asleep while the owner is watching TV — and a high energy state — the owner going to the door to pay the pizza deliver guy (etc.).

    So by using a bell as part of the experiment, and by not understanding how dogs process changes in energy states (via the changes they feel within their own bodies), which hold learned associations about past experiences with such changes (based on feelings, not thoughts), the researchers ended up with a very badly designed experiment (unless it was designed deliberately as part of their confirmation basis).

    Just as a thought experiment, think of what the difference in outcomes might be if the researchers had attached a squeaky toy — which triggers a very different feeling state in the dog — to the container of food. Would the dogs then have avoided that container? Or would they have preferred it?

    Something to think about.


  5. Subaru says:

    All the foolish speculation about the study exemplifies the intellectual lethargy that plagues the NDT community; they are only capable of brain-dead reflex reactions.

    Not one of these lazy speculators bothered to look up the source material and read it. Rather they mindlessly speculate, projecting their own ignorance and biases.

    Here is a rule for peopel who wich to criticize a particular Study: RTFS!

  6. christine randolph says:

    haha ! if a behaviourist could explain why your ordinary german civil servant is so “authoritaetshoerig” (loosely translatable as “submissive”) that they cannot imagine that others will boldly defy authority…I would admire such a person very much !

    What I cannot quite follow (@subaru: without having read the study) is that scientists would conjur up a complex experimental environment when they cannot even explain why an animal would take food as soon as the human (or fellow animal) turns their back. As per Alan Alda’s Human Spark, and below blog entry references a study by Yale university.


    “It has been argued by Yale researchers that an even more distant relative to humans, Reces Monkey, can understand intention based on body language, and react accordingly. In the experiments these researchers have conducted, two people place fruit on a tray and one person faces away from the monkey. Every time the monkey steals the fruit from the person who is not looking. Whether this is a form of body language that primates understand, or simply a survival technique (to avoid predators by avoiding their eyes or teeth) is up to further research to determine.”

    so, where is the FURTHER RESEARCH on this ??????
    in other words….
    what kind of p…ssss me off about behavioural scientists nowadays is that they cannot stick to knitting. if they cannot answer a simple question, they move on to the next more complicated question. how is that justifiable to an even remotely logical mind ???

  7. christine randolph says:

    OK and Kundey would have used rats if she had been allowed to house them on campus…

    instead she had dog owners from the area near the campus bring in their dogs for the experiments…because she was not allowed to house ANY animals on campus it seems. not sure what the sample size is. in one article it says 375 dogs but do they count the same dog as 2 dogs when they participate in more than one day of experiments ? it says arthritic dogs are rejected because the do not move around enough. dogs who do not respond eagerly to food are also rejected…is that scientific ? again we are at that Seeing Eye impasse when a Seeing eye dog is a very special kind of a dog and their behaviour cannot be globalized across the species…apparently experiments are conducted about every 3 or 4 days…i do not think the study has been published yet. i think a scientific publication/magazine has rejected it because it was not “scientific” enough so back to the drawing board for Dr. Kundey.

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In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
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