One Halloween, I bought little packaged chocolate candy bars
and put them into a bowl on a table in the darkened hall next to the front door.
I told my Standard Poodle, Zephyr, to leave the candy alone, because I knew
that chocolate can be poisonous to dogs.
As the Trick-or-Treaters came up to
the door, I gave each a candy bar while Zephyr stood nearby, wagging his tail
and obviously enjoying the kids and their costumes. Even though I sometimes
stepped out onto the front porch, stepping away from my sight of the candy
bars, Zephyr made no effort to touch the bowl.
Then my phone rang in another room. I thought that I was
safe leaving the candy for the thirty seconds that it took me to walk into the
other room, pick up the phone and carry it back to the front door. After all,
Zephyr was an obedient dog, and I had told him sternly that he should leave the
candy bowl alone.
Imagine my horror when I came back and found that the entire
bowl was empty. Zephyr had swallowed about twenty candy bars, wrappers and all.
He was standing as far away from the bowl as possible, with a look that said,
Candy, what candy? I don’t know what happened to it. It wasn’t me.
It was time to haul out the peroxide, take him out on the
back porch, and pour a couple of teaspoons down his throat. A few minutes
later, the peroxide did its job. Out came all twenty candy bars, unscathed by
dog teeth, just covered with goo.
I had saved my dog, but I still had a dilemma. That was my
entire supply of candy, and the evening was still young.
The candy wrappers were still intact, and I had a fleeting
thought of simply washing the wrappers and giving the kids the candy. But I
thought, no, that’s pretty gross.
My solution was to turn off the lights and pretend that no
one was home, and keep Zephyr from barking when kids rang the doorbell.
So did Zephyr realize that he could eat the candy bars
because I wasn’t watching?
A new study in the journal Animal Cognition suggests that
the answer is yes.
In the study by Kaminski et al. (2013, Animal Cognition
16:385-394) the experimenters set up situations were dogs were always forbidden
by a person to eat food that was available, but sometimes the person was lit up
with a lamp while the food was in the dark, sometimes the food was lit up while
the person was dark, sometimes both person and food were lit up, and sometimes
both were in the dark.
Whether or not the person was lit up with the lamp, as long
as the food was in the dark, the dogs felt that they could eat it. They
apparently realized that as long as the person couldn’t see the food, the
person also couldn’t see the dog stealing it.
This is yet another study showing that dogs are a lot
smarter than we sometimes assume.
For more of Zephyr’s antics, check out my ebook,
Autobiography of a Poodle, available on Amazon.com