This New York Times article is about a British study that supposedly proves that some dogs are pessimistic and some dogs are optimistic.
After training the dogs to understand that bowls can sometimes be empty, and sometimes full, they began to place bowls in ambiguous locations. Dogs that quickly raced to the locations were more optimistic, and in search of food. Those that did not were deemed pessimistic.
The more separation anxiety a dog expressed while in isolation, the more likely the dog was to have a pessimistic reaction, the researchers found.
Hmmm…I have some questions about this study. First of all, I disagree with the suggestion that you need to “train” a dog to understand that bowls can be empty or full. Any dog who has ever eaten out of a bowl must have some kind of understanding that first there is something in the bowl, and then there is not. Training would be if you got the dog to take the empty bowl and fling it at the scientist.
Secondly, dogs have really good noses. Really really good. If there’s food in a bowl somewhere in the room, there’s a good chance they’ve smelled it. So, if they follow the scent and look for the bowl excitedly. If there is no scent then, I don’t see what motivation there is to look for the bowl to begin with.
And why does a dog have to be just “pessimistic” or “optimistic”? Isn’t there a wider range of emotions to choose from? How about “Guardedly enthusiastic” or “somewhere on the bipolar spectrum.”
But okay, so maybe the dogs really can be pessimistic. Fine. Thing is, I’m not a scientist or a behaviorist or whatever, but I do know about pessimism. And this is one thing of which I’m rather sure: If I stood just a foot or two off the ground, didn’t understand language and was put alone in a room by large creatures in white coats who offered no assurance that they were going to come back to get me anytime soon, I’d be upset. Really, it takes much less than that to put me in a bad mood. And when I’m in a bad mood, I figure the world is out to get me. It’ll be like rain on my wedding day or a free ride when I’ve already paid or many other Alanis Morisette lyrics that are more unfortunate than ironic.
So, I probably wouldn’t run excitedly to the food bowl. I’d just know in my soul that life is meaningless. And even if there is food in the bowl somewhere out there, it’s probably not going to be tasteless kibble. Harrumph.
(featured photo by William Chen)