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The Thoughtful Animal

The Thoughtful Animal

Exploring the evolution and architecture of the mind

Can Dogs Pretend?

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Earlier today, friend-of-the-blog Sheril Kirshenbaum (blog, twitter) asked a question on her blog, Culture of Science: Do Dogs Play "Make Believe?":

...this afternoon Happy did something unusual. She carried a toy frog over to her water bowl, and gently put it down as pictured. Given its orientation, I’m skeptical that her placement was an accident.

The frog continues to sit like this (20 minutes later) as Happy arranges other toys nearby. Now I admit I may be anthropomorphizing, but her behavior sure reminds me of a child playing “make believe” with stuffed animals.

Happy is actually a pretty amazing dog, and has frequently been a topic of conversation between me and Sheril. For example, we've discussed how she appears to be able to "read."

So, here's a question for readers: what do you think is going on here? Can dogs engage in pretend play? Can they imagine, or make-believe? Or is this just an accidental arrangement of objects?

I'll hold off on providing my own opinion - as well as what I can glean from reading the literature - until tomorrow. If you don't have a Sci Am login to comment here, go ahead and comment over on Google+ or on twitter.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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