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spooky doll stuff


pkcrossley
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i thought my six year old cairn was not going to be surprising me much anymore, but i just saw something that has me scratching my head. i've always read, and been told, that dogs identify objects, animals and people by smell --color, form, perhaps even sound do not carry much weight if the smell is not right. they are, after all, animals.

today my housekeeper's granddaughter came into the house with a very realistic baby doll, and baby sized. she sat and played with it, feeding it, talking to it, and fixing its clothes for about fifteen minutes. she then left the doll sitting in an armchair and went out to play. as i was working in the same room i didn't notice anything at first, but heard his holey-roller toy plop on the floor few times. when i looked up, he wasn't looking at me, as i expected. he was plopping the toy in front of the chair where the doll was sitting, then looking at her intently, exactly as he requests any human to play with him. being a cairn, he is not easily discouraged, so he kept up this plop-stare-wag shtick for quite a long time. not only did she not throw the toy, she never even made eye-contact (the usual point of sealing the deal). never even blinked. needless to say, he was smitten by the hard-to-get act. when the child came back to retrieve the doll and carried her out the door, he followed with the wistful longing look that he gets when a beloved friend (or a likely prospect) is leaving.

i saw something like this just once before. when my cairn was a puppy and first came to my house, he found an empty crate stuffed full of handed-down dog toys, coats and leashes. near it was a stuffed animal, a lamb (or so the tag said) that was his own size and shape. i was glad he found something to occupy himself and during this period would only see him once every few hours when i would come out of my office for something. the first time i came out he had sorted all the objects into two piles --one of hard objects of definite shape, like retracting leashes and collars, the other of soft, loose, flat-lying objects, like towels and coats (which when laid flat look like towels). at first i thought i was imagining it, but when i checked later i saw that was exactly what he was doing. moreover, he quickly found that open coats and old towels make good beach-blanket-like-napping surfaces. a few hours later, i saw that he had taken one of them into the sunroom and stretched out on it. a few hours after that, i saw that he had opened two coats as beach blankets in the sunroom --he was on one, and the stuffed animal "lambie" was on the other.

that really weirded me out, because i had thought he related to the stuffed animal as a kind of soft, cozy, plaything or a nice pillow to lay on or against. that event made it clear, however, that he was thinking of "lambie" as a companion, a creature more or less like him (with a few disabilities, i guess), and because of nothing more than the thing's form. this was clearly what he did with this doll today. despite the lack of smell or movement, it had the abstract form and features (as well as size) of a human being, and so he treated it exactly as if that was what it was.

i don't know to account for this abstract thought. it is something like his separating the new found cache of objects into two piles on the basis of their essential qualities. that is not a brain, that is a mind! it was very spooky and i put it out of my mind, now comes this again. either we are way off in considering that domestic dogs think like animals, or cairns are in a mental world of their own.

have you seen your cairn playing with dolls not as little soft toys but as if they really are what they are made to look like?

Edited by pkcrossley
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That was really intersting! No i haven't seen my Oscar do anything like that. He does love blankets, and cuddles in them when ever one is out.

Antonietta

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That is really interesting! No, Bruski has never done anything like that - he usually attacks the toy no matter what the size as a plaything. But I think its the way we present it to him- as a toy, not as a companion - since Oscar found the toy himself, maybe he wasn't sure.

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With the doll, my Cairn's will 'nose' something when they are not sure what it is (since they don't have hands) they will do this to investigate it and figure out what it is...of course mouthing it comes next- But I bring this up because I had a Madem Alexander doll (stood about 3 feet tall) out of my collection which I keep in a closet- I had taken her out of the box and was looking for a label on her- I left her on the coffee table while I went to get my price book, came back into the room to find both Mett & Bratt nosing her in the stomach- trying to figure out 'what she was'.

It sounds like your cairn skips the nosing to see what somethign is... soft, fleshy, dog, ect..

The whole object sorting cracks me up, that is a new one on me....I think your little guy is wishing for thumbs.

Tracy, Brattwrust & Mettwurst a.k.a The Gremlins
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mrs kitty could be right --my dog could be starved for friendship and need another little cairn... i'm afraid my mother, who often babysits my dog when i travel, would kill me.

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When I was growing up, we had a wheaten Cairn. Minch lived with 7 kids so she saw lots of action! Most of us were girls, so we had tons of dolls around the house. Minch loved one of the dolls as if it were her own puppy. She carried the "baby" around and would sleep with it, often licking the baby. I've never had a Cairn that did this after Minch.

It's interesting that your dog made to distinct piles of goods.....I would love to know what goes on in their minds....just for an hour!

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that's fascinating. minch obviously saw a lot of "modelling" behavior between children and dolls, and in this same abstraction that i find so amazing she decided the object was her doll --or, her baby (since that is what she saw children assuming of the dolls). my dog redmon has no children in the house, but sees them often. more important, he saw the girl who owns the doll (i would guess she is nine or ten) treating it as if it were a person. then he proceeded to respond to this doll very precisely as if it were a person (he also saw the adults talking to the doll, getting into the girl's game).

i think it is also possible that he treated his lamb stuffed animal as he knew i treated him. he considered it his physically challenged brother, and always dragged it to where he was going, and clearly thought it should have a nice coat to lay on in the sunroom just like him.

this is so amazing. there's no reason to think it is unique to cairns or scottish terriers, since all dogs tend to pick up modelling behaviors from people (like grinning). but it might make a difference that they were bred to work in teams, and might be especially quick to pick up on companionable and socializing behaviors.

these are great dogs. if only they were as smart as this only when you want them to be.

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That is the sweetest thing I ever heard....I can just picture your dog dragging the coat over and putting the lamb on it, then laying down next to it! So precious....

I wish Barney had some of those sweet, innocent qualities! He would have dismembered the baby doll and shredded the coat.... But he does lay at my feet under the dinner table. I guess each dog has his own special sweetness!

Thank you for sharing your story! I am going to print it out and read it to my "animal lover" daughter!

All creatures great and small, the Lord God, He made them all!

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yep, that was when i knew my dog had a heart of gold (quite a revelation, considering that at the time he was also busy destroying eyeglasses, wristwatches, television remotes, radios, computer mice, and a lot of my favorite clothes).

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oh, i should complete the thought by throwing in one last incident, since i'm sure there is a pattern here. my dog was about a year and half old when we went to my mother's house for the holidays. he ran up the stairs to the room where i normally stay, but stopped half-way down the hall at a neighboring room, where the door was open. it was late afternoon, very shadowy, and hard to see into the room clearly. i was talking with my mother and didn't notice right away that redmon was standing stock still in the hallway, growling softly. the growl became louder. he stepped into the room staring angrily at something, and getting more angry and threatening every second. it was the "back off! back off! i'll tear you limb from limb if i have to!" growl-bark. finally we went to see what the problem was. at first we didn't see anything. he seemed to be staring at and cursing at a chair with some clothes or something piled on it. but as my eyes adjusted i clearly saw the whites of two eyes and then two wide rows of teeth, above the seat of the chair and just high enough to be able to leap onto a little cairn's back. i went to the chair to see if my eyes were deceiving me, and touched a very fat plush toy. i held it up for my mother to see and she almost collapsed in hysterics. it was "hildy" the hippo, the stuffed toy of one my mother's grandchildren. there is a little zipper in hildy's belly from which issue two or three baby hippos.

when my dog looked in that room he clearly saw two eyes and a row of teeth. even after we turned on the lights and it looked more like a purple pillow with ears, he still regarded it as an animal. only after i had defeated it by picking it up, talking to it sternly and shaking it by the scruff of its neck did he begin to relax. of course, to this day he always stops and looks carefully inside that room when he passes, even though i haven't seen hildy for some years. if she knows what's good for her, she won't come back.

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Not sure about abstract thought ... I suspect its a case of wishful thinking and not enough thought. <_< I am sure the doll was covered in human scent and your Cairn convinced himself it was just one of those stubborn humans that don't know how to play properly.

Play I think is the operative word, because dogs definitely do "pretend" and have a sense of humour. They pretend to fight with each other, but its only playing. They tease each other or their human companions. They also get attached to objects. Rudi has one soft toy that he loves and I am sure gets great comfort from - he takes itup and downstairs with him every day. Any other soft toy last five minutes before it is destroyed, but not this one, it's special.

Interesting creatures - which is what makes them so enjoyable.

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