Looking into the Future

Can dogs anticipate? Can they visualize a future event or state?

Certainly, our dogs learn our routines and recognize the signs that, say, we’re getting ready to take them for a walk or go to work. They might try to guess whether they get to come along on an outing. Wylie, our resident super-optimist, seems to anticipate doggy fun any time we get on a highway that has, once, led to a dog park. Then there’s mealtime. Jana gets agitated if we go out anywhere near (defined as “within a few hours”) a mealtime.

That’s all pretty typical stuff reported by many dog owners.

But Daisy, a very intelligent thinking dog who lives in Massachusetts with my friend Nancy, does something exceptional. She’s 13, and it’s possible that regular access to the “little dogs’ room” is more important to her than, say, to little brother Brandon (age 5). But she’s normally on a pretty regular going-out schedule, and is reputed to have enormous staying power. Nevertheless, she has recently started to pay close attention to Mom’s “leaving” cues. If Nancy is indicating that the outing is by car, Daisy will request an unscheduled pee break. Is she anticipating needing to go and not knowing when Mom will be home?

A similar question arises when I consider Jana’s habit of not drinking water when I am not home. I first noticed this when we lived in an apartment, and I was often gone for a few hours at a time. This was a new predicament for Jana, who has been an extremely lucky dog in mostly having a stay-at-home mom, or being able to accompany me to work, or having access to her yard via dog door. But things had changed.

I first noticed that the water bowl would be untouched while I was out. I also noticed that, the minute I came home, she’d say hello and then head straight for her bowl. The odd thing is, the not-drinking behavior persisted, even after we moved into a house with a dog door.

So, can dogs anticipate needing to go out when their human servants are not around to open the door? What else can they anticipate? How far ahead can they look forward? Is anticipation part of what dogs are doing when they warn people of impending seizures?

We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions (though I’d love to hear your thoughts!). But it seems yet another way that dogs constantly surprise and amaze us with their abilities.

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3 thoughts on “Looking into the Future

  1. Poor Wylie has spent the entire morning looking out the window, getting excited whenever a car stops near the house … he’s hoping that his beloved dog walker will come for him. If that is not anticipation, what is?

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  2. Our Border Collie, Will, adjusts his pee duration to the weather. If it is beginning to rain, he will do one or two unusually long streams. Otherwise, he preserves his marking supply as is customary with a male dog. I can tell him “it is going to rain” and he will make the same adjustment. He knows he has to wait until there is no rain for another break. So he empties himself to insure that he remains comfortable.

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  3. Duke, my 8 year old German Shorthair Pointer can anticipate my activity by watching which shoes I put on. He gets excited if I bring out my walking shoes because he knows that he’s going for a walk. He doesn’t even stir when I bring out my mountain biking shoes. He knows that he’s not going with me.

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