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Are you seeing what you think you’re seeing? How dogs interpret events different than humans.

Driving my mom back home from my daughters’ birthday celebration, she mentioned some of the sights that she had encountered during her many walks through town. We live in Saratoga Springs and the town likes to go all out with decorations during the annual horse races.

Being one of the few times Mom and I catch up on her going abouts, I naturally gave her my full attention. I learned long ago that unless I do so, she’s likely to veer off on some murky tangent making the conversation tricky to follow and I won’t be able to make sense of what she’s saying.

She’s nearing 70 and fully alert. It’s just that she doesn’t always stay on topic.

“I’ve noticed those ass statues they now have all over town”, she starts off.

“What ass statues?”

“They’re everywhere, on the streets. Headless asses.”

“Ma, what are you talking about? I haven’t seen anything like that.”

“Oh yeah, they’re ugly and offensive.”

“Ma, lots of famous artists have created nude sculptures and I don’t find them offensive, but I have yet to see any nude statues around Saratoga. The town’s too uptight for that.”

“Maybe it is art”, she concedes.

“I’m sure that’s what you’re seeing.”

“Maybe they’re trying to bring in more tourists by placing art all over the place, but I don’t see how asses can bring in more people.” I could have gone to so many places with that comment, but I let it drop.

“Whatever you think you’re seeing, I don’t think they’re asses”, I said.

“They are, and people draw on them.”

“You mean like graffiti?”

“No, they paint on them.”

“Alright, but I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

As we drive up Lake Ave and turn the corner towards her house she points excitedly towards my side of the window.

“There, right there! Look at that!”

On the street corner, I see one of the rear ends she’s been speaking of. Round, pink, laced, and painted all over.

“Ma, that’s a shoe.”

“A what?”

“A ballet shoe. You know, what ballerinas wear when they’re doing their thing.”

“But the end, it’s round.”

“That’s the heel of the foot”, I shouted. “The shoe’s pointing down cause that’s how they dance. They put these up all over town to promote the ballet and then they have different artists paint on them…but it’s a shoe.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like an ass to me.”

“It’s a shoe.”

“Oh.”

Mom’s version of an ass in Saratoga.

It’s all in how you look at it.

We have the tendency to get stuck in our views and often lack the ability to see beyond first impressions. More so, we believe that what we observe is all there is to it and so we close off our ability to examine the initial belief from a new perspective.

This leads many of us to buy into viewpoints that aren’t to our advantage and in many cases may hurt us or pose as barriers to achieving otherwise attainable results.

This manner of viewing the world around us also greatly shapes how we respond to life.

From my perspective, nowhere is this more obvious than in how we think of our dogs and interpret their language.

One common misinterpretation is how we repeatedly attempt to read emotions in our dog’s facial expressions, gaze, or random behavior.

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “My dog looks guilty every time he does something bad.” Maybe you’ve thought the same thing about your doggy.

But is a dog showing signs of guilt or are we simply interpreting a look or behavior based on our own limited knowledge and in the only way we know?

Anthropomorphizing is a long and fancy way of saying we’re attributing human traits and characteristics to something that is not human.

The dog is most likely not feeling guilty, nor is he displaying signs of guilt. We’re interpreting a reaction based on our own version of events and attributing human emotions to an animal that lacks the ability to feel guilt. We’re also signaling our lack of insight into dog behavior.

Research has indicated that while dogs can feel base emotions such as fear, joy, anger, and grief, other emotional states such as guilt or jealousy require the ability for introspection and self awareness, traits dogs lack, and thus are considered too intricate for a dog’s emotional range.

Nor are dogs capable of grasping time in the same sense that we do. Something that is necessary in order to experience an emotion such as guilt.

Time is linear for us humans. We experience a past, present, and future. Dogs largely live in the here and now, grasping their understanding of the world through associations and consequences they’ve linked to objects, sounds, people, and events.

For a dog, there is no looking back and thinking “Dad is going to find the garbage can lid on the floor and he’ll know I ate from the trash.” As difficult as it may be for some people to accept, this thought process is just too complex for a dog.

The point is that we often don’t interpret reality but conceptualize it in a way that jives with our pre-existing view of life.

Dogs are an entirely unique species of animal with their own way of interpreting the world. Our understanding of this will greatly enhance our relationships with them. But sometimes in order to get from one place to another we need to be the ones who take the leap. In this instance, the leap means that we acknowledge life on their terms.

How many relationships, personal or business, have gone sour because two parties were not able to see eye to eye or gain simple common ground? Isn’t your dog worth special consideration?

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