Hide and Seek

hiding

Every evening, as we get ready for bed, I call the dogs to brush their teeth. Jana runs right over, ever the good dog (and ever the dog who can sense a cookie opportunity). Cali used to run over. In fact, as a small puppy, she would often ask to have her teeth brushed, going over to the shelf where the dog toothbrush was kept and nosing it, touching my hand and then walking back over to it.
Those days are gone.
Now, her ritual is to hide. First, she heads into the bedroom. When I finish Jana’s teeth and call Cali, she walks toward me, but then she hides behind the bathroom door. She’s less than a foot away from me, and when I call her again, she comes over. But she always goes through this hiding routine. She does it when I need to clean her ears or trim her nails, too.
She could really hide. She could squeeze under the bed or hide in the closet. She doesn’t. She knows (I think) that I can see her. She’s not trying very hard to avoid the inevitable. She’s not refusing to cooperate. She’s simply registering her discontent. I don’t want to do this, she’s telling me, but I will, if I have to. And I will eagerly accept a cookie afterward.
What does all of this mean? I think it shows a pretty high level of communication. Cali is sure of what she wants, and does not want, to do. She knows, too, that we follow a routine and that she has to undergo some grooming, like it or not. She has figured out that hiding lets me know how she feels.
But it also shows her cognitive development in another way. Hiding, and understanding that she and I both know to look for something hidden (rather than assume it is gone forever) is part of understanding object permanence. It’s part of developing consciousness of the world around you and your place in it and in relation to others.
I have seen very young puppies show a grasp of object permanence: I once watched 8-week-old puppies playing with an agility tunnel. One ran in, and another ran to the other end of the tunnel to wait for her sister. That showed that the puppy knew that the “missing” puppy was simply temporarily out of sight and would reappear. She even knew where the puppy would reappear.
By the way, babies begin to grasp this concept at about 8 months, and, at about a year, can retrieve an item if they see it being hidden. Those 8-week-old puppies are leap years ahead of the typical baby.
So it’s no surprise that Cali understands object permanence. What I find fascinating, though, is how she uses it to communicate with me.

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