Monday, November 17, 2008

Lie to Me

This probably goes without saying, but I like animals a lot. I like the way they all have their own personalities and I like the way they are willing to build relationships with us big monkeys. At the same time I think it's dangerous to anthropomorphise any animal. Attributing them with human thoughts, feelings and intentions muddies the relationships between us and does gross disservice to their own languages, instincts, and motivations. In general I believe that animals live in the present, with a vague-yet-persistent concept of past consequences (it sucked last time I tried to bite that monkey, I didn't die the last time that monkey climbed on me, it was awesome last time I lay down when the monkey did that with her hand) and no concept of potential futures.

This doesn't mean that animals aren't complex. Many are intelligent, thinking creatures that have huge capacities for learning. But to what degree are they capable of dishonesty? Exaggerations, white lies or big whoppers? Are some animals less honest than others, and is it nature or nurture that fosters dishonesty? Over the past four days Raven was at her very lamest on Thursday night and I wonder if she wasn't laying it on thick to really get my attention. Please. I need you to notice this.

I have read that Koko the gorilla once blamed her kitten for doing gorilla-sized damage to something in her enclosure, and I know that if my dog Tilley is injured she limps more severely when she thinks someone is watching. I'd love to hear your stories about animal dishonesty and its motivations...


Funder said...

Oooh, nice post. I agree with you; that's a really good characterization of how animals think.

I've seen horses fake lame before. I know that we outside observers can't know what the horse is truly feeling and his feet probably DO hurt... but when he can't remember which foot to limp on in the round pen, yet walks and trots happily away when you turn him back out? That's faking.

I suspect even though dogs and horses aren't conscious the way we are, they do have senses of humor.

EvenSong said...

Here's a link you might find interesting--more in line with the Koko photo, than with your general topic. Still fascinating, nonetheless!

Black Jack's Carol said...

I have two thoughts:
1. Raven could very well have noticed that her limp got her something positive (maybe extra treats or lots of attention?)
2. Pain can come and go, depending on one's mood. Endorphins sometimes kick in and mask the pain.

Bill said he wouldn't call it dishonesty, but rather trickery. He told me a story of the two dogs he had. Reka, the younger, knew that Judy always ran to the door barking when people arrived. If Judy had a bone, and Reka wanted it, she would run to the door, barking, and this would trick Judy into thinking someone was there. She would run barking, and then Reka would grab the bone. A reasoned action to get a desired response is what I would call it. (So good to know that Raven is feeling well enough to work out strategies to get what she wants.)

dp said...

I think that any horse (or other animal for that matter) who is bonded with humans understands that we can help them when they are in pain or discomfort. It wouldn't surprise me to hear Raven tell Tonka that she exaggerated her limp to ensure that she got my full attention, but I will never know for sure. Just made me think.

Great story about the chimp and about the dogs. Tricksy creatures, for sure.

Funder said...

Carol, that's much better way of putting it!

Another way I was thinking about Raven's slightly exaggerated limp was that it's a reverse bluff. Horses bluff all the time. Champ is constantly threatening to bite the other horses if they don't move for him. Silky will move, Dixie will spin and kick at Champ, but another horse out there, Blackjack, will only move some of the time. If Blackjack doesn't move Champ's ears come back up and he walks up beside him.

Champ actively threatens to do something, then doesn't always follow through on it. Raven was passively communicating that her leg hurt extra bad - but I don't think she would have actually fallen down if DP had just walked away. It was a bluff in that sense.

(I just noticed that you have a Black Jack too. I will now go spy on your blog to figure out what kind of critter yours is!)

Danse Macabre said...

My cat is guilty. I brought her to the vet and she got a particularly painful shot in her hip. As soon as I set her feet on the floor back at home, she collapse. She wouldn't bear ANY weight on that leg. I was terrified. I seriously thought there some nerve damage or something! I called the vet up and they laughed. They said she was just being a drama queen and if she wasn't better in a half hour to call back. Needless to say, she was perfectly fine within 30 mins!!

She has that drama queen personality. LOOOOOVES attention to the point she can become pushy when she wants it bad enough. We try to discourage that, though.

Brandy said...

The only thing I can remember that would be in this vein is when my girl cat had a bladder infection.

I was near the cat box, and she came running in and squatted - next to the box! I could see that there was a problem, and got her to the hospital right away, and she got better quickly.

So she was "naughty" by not using the box right in front of me, but she understood that I would help her as soon as I could see she had a problem! I couldn't fault or correct her, and as soon as she was well, she was good as gold in using the box!

She was a really smart girl, had a vocabulary of at least 30 words, knew right from left, etc.

Actually my dog did something sort of like that. He had to live with my brother when I had no house or place for him, and I was unable to visit him for ages. When I came out to see him, my brother wanted to show me some of his training skills. He told Gus to heel, and Gus came and sat at MY heel! LOL, they always know who's the mama!

Glad to hear that Raven is feeling better, and that she's smart enough to pull a thought out action to get help from you!

dp said...

Sheesh, DM -- that cat is nothing but trouble!

And Brandy, are you writing from home or will you be living in a hotel for years to come?