The dog who shares our lives has a hobby. He sits in the garden and looks, just looks. Why would he do that?
Waiting for cats, birds squirrels to appear, to be chased? Maybe. But I think there’s another reason. He’s just assessing the situation, awaiting the inspiration for action.
Take the time he became obsessed with the cat at the back. The vegetation, fencing and screening between the two gardens had deterred two dog generations from venturing into the back neighbour’s garden. But this dog was different. He sat and looked. One day he disappeared, until the back neighbour called and handed him back. He’d bitten a hole in the previously impregnable defences.
More defences were erected. The dog looked. Another day he disappeared, and was handed back again. This became a regular contest, and there was only one clear winner – the dog.
After a summit discussion, a new wooden fence was erected. That would spike his guns! The dog looked, for a long time. Then one day we heard him barking at the cat through a window – in the neighbour’s garden. He’d tunnelled under the fence. Bricks, logs and concrete variously deterred further digging.
The dog looked again. Another day he was barking in the neighbour’s garden again. He’d managed to squeeze through the gap at the end of the fence, which had surely been too narrow for a dog!
The gap was barricaded. The dog looked for a long time. Then went off to look at another fence, which was by now more promising. But that’s another story.
What really struck me about this episode is that the dog’s ‘looking’ is very similar to my own approach to gardening. I have a sort of overall picture of what sort of plants should go where, and when they need feeding or pruning, but the actual decision on what is ripe to do next is done by looking. As I look, it becomes clear what is to be done next.
So really, what’s so different about dog- and human- consciousness? Have we become confused into thinking that language plays a major part in our decision making and our rationality, so we must be so much cleverer than the animals? Maybe we are not so different from them after all.