Hide and (Don’t) Seek

Albee sleeps_small
Alberta sleeps — or pretends to?

My last post, Hide and Seek, talked about how Cali hides when she is avoiding something, such as having her teeth brushed. This week, I encountered an example of hiding that has a different purpose — and shows some high-level, and rather devious, thinking.
We were visiting at a home where there is a resident cat. Early one morning, the cat’s mom got up, gave the cat his breakfast in a plastic bowl, placed on the floor. Cat and mom then wandered away. Alberta, who had been sleeping on blankets next to the bed, noticed the cat and mom as they passed by into another room and closed the door. Very quietly, which took some effort, as she had several jangly tags on her collar, Alberta slipped out of the bedroom. Minutes later, without waking Deni, she slipped back in and either went back to sleep or did a stellar job of faking it. None of the three people in the house had any idea that she had slipped out of the bedroom or back in.
Later that morning, cat-mom asked us whether we’d seen the cat’s food bowl, which she had last seen at 5:30 a.m., still filled with kibble. Nope. We looked high and low. We looked in closets, cupboards, even the refrigerator, the bathrooms, and the garage. Nope, nope, and nope. Cat-mom wondered whether she really had fed the cat. Was she losing her marbles? Regardless, the bowl itself had disappeared.
Several hours later, walking through the bedroom, I noticed the edge of a plastic bowl under the bed, right near Alberta’s dog bed. Hmmm. Bending over, I reached waaayyy under the bed … and pulled out the cat’s (now empty) bowl.
Our best guess is that Alberta snuck out to eat the cat’s food and then, as is her habit, picked up the bowl and headed toward Deni to hand it over for an after-meal treat. Somewhere along the way, she must have remembered that she wasn’t supposed to let anyone know that she’d stolen the cat’s breakfast. Was she deliberately hiding the bowl? Had that been her plan all along? Or did she only think of it once she got back and saw Deni sleeping? At what point did she realize her error?
Her extreme stealth tells us that she knew she was doing something wrong; the distance the bowl was shoved under the bed indicates the same. If Alberta needs to go outside or decides that breakfast is long overdue before Deni wakes up, she noses Deni and whines until Deni responds. When Alberta picks up her bowl after a legitimate meal, she usually dances around, makes noise, doing whatever it takes to get Deni’s attention — because she is eager to collect her dessert (a cookie for returning the bowl). That she did not do this, and did not leave the bowl where anyone could see it, indicates deliberate hiding.
There’s a whole lot of higher-level thinking going on in her mind — all put to work for devious purposes. Alberta is showing multilayered understanding of a situation: knowledge that she can work a situation to her advantage (steal the food while cat and humans are sleeping or otherwise occupied) and hide the evidence where humans can’t see it.
Despite her impeccable breeding and fancy education, and regardless of her usual angelic behavior, what we learn here is that Alberta is also still a true Labrador — primarily a food-seeking missile. We also see that, whatever we teach our dogs and however we nurture their intelligence and try to shape it in ways that we want, each dog is still an individual who can put that intelligence to work in the ways that best serve her own interests.

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