Any of us exposed for some time to a family dog knows that they develop an intuitive quality of awareness of, to some degree understanding, our behaviour and moods, not to mention their ongoing desire to connect through eye contact. The capacity of dogs to have a helpful instinct – illustrated at an extreme, if wistful, level in the book and film “A Dog’s Purpose” – has been evident over the years, in their training as police dogs, as ‘seeing eye’ dogs for the blind, and in therapeutic visits to hospitals as well as senior residences.
Many of us see much of dog behaviour as mirroring that of children.
In the most recent issue of Psychology Today, the quality of young children’s insight is briefly examined.
For example, “Children as young as 3 can watch adults perform an arbitrary manual task and infer that it is being done the correct way, even without being told”. In addition, “they know there is a right and wrong, and they’re looking out for social cues”. They even “are capable of distinguishing genuine smiles from fakes ones in photographs”, and expect more kindness from people who look genuine.
In short, we have to watch what we say and do around both dogs and children, lest they pick up unintended messages contributing to unintended traits.
However, there are species-based differences:
- As noted above, children react based on judging others, starting at a young age; dogs seem to channel their judgement of humans as they age
- If a lot of attention is given to young children, dogs may react with jealousy and destroy one of their toys; the reverse is unlikely
- Youngsters will eat treats, but not worry about crumbs or small bits that spill along the way; dogs will not only consume every morsel of their own treats but will clean up anything left by kids
- A dog will lick your hand for minutes, before or after licking itself; little children will lick things which attach to their bodies but infrequently their own body parts
- Dogs will bark due to external provocation, while young children will yell due to internal discomfort
- Youngsters frequently need at least a couple of urgings to appear, whatever the reason; dogs will race to our call with one word, whatever the pleasure
- Dogs will chase squirrels or chipmunks with much more aggressive intent than young children will
- A dog’s powerful sense of smell will lead it to venues of sustenance throughout life; a young child’s powerful sense of discovery will reveal sources of sustenance which hopefully improve over life