For a long time I have been preoccupied by the concept of human and animal perception. It is fascinating in all its forms: both the simple – how others see the colour blue – and the random – what my dog thinks I am doing with my hair dryer every morning.
No doubt I spend more time than is mentally healthy thinking about the inner workings of my dog’s brain. I never said I was sane. Being a bit overly prone to abstract thinking and excessively fond of thought experiments in general, I can’t help but wonder what Shiva’s opinions are of our daily activities. Does she wonder why I spend so much time with a plastic black box on my lap instead of playing with her? What does she think of the clothing we’re always wearing? Does she ever question where we go every day when we leave her alone? If Shiva ponders any of these things, she doesn’t share with me. Given how much time I spend with her and how much time I spend in my head, it is impossible not to let my thoughts drift to the cranial wranglings of the Sheevs.
What are the limits of a dog’s imagination?
None of these questions have accessible answers. Until dogs learn to talk I don’t know if we’ll ever know what goes through their adorable brains. I know they are smarter than I understand and assume their minds work in ways we probably wouldn’t be able to comprehend even if we had all the information.
Regardless, one of my favourite things to think about is how Shiva perceives our walks. I know she knows we embark on a ramble outside once in the morning and once in the evening. After four years it’s just fact for her. She shows me this each morning by following me around the house and nudging me toward the door. In the evenings she will lay on the floor directly in front of me and stare until I give in and grab the leash. She can’t relax until this step in her routine is complete.
But does Shiva ever wonder why we walk?
Does she know the walk is essentially for the sake of giving her exercise and calming her down? Does she think there is a higher purpose? I sometimes imagine she envisions us patrolling the area, making sure everything is safe and in order. Perhaps she sees it as some sort of scavenging practice – hence why she gobbles up every bit of garbage or haphazard edible she finds on the sidewalk. Dogs have been accustomed to travelling on foot with their humans since the beginning of domestication. Hunting and gathering were a large a part of these journeys and it is something dogs would do on their own without us. As Shiva is almost always given her breakfast and dinner once we arrive back home, it is possible she might think we are out for the purpose of food.
Or maybe she thinks we walk to communicate with other people and dogs, to sniff and mark, and secure our territory. She certainly does a lot of that as well. Walking for her could be similar to me checking my phone for messages.
It’s something I think about a lot as we meander down the trails of the river valley before the sun rises. Most likely Shiva just enjoys the experience and doesn’t bother with the reasons behind it. Dogs are good at being grateful for what they have in the moment. They don’t need to worry about silly things like overarching motivations. I am sure Shiva primarily accepts our walks as something we do and nothing more. Sure, she takes advantage of the time outdoors to sniff, and scarf, and stretch her legs, but she probably doesn’t need a reason for it all. She just enjoys the positive of what she has, when she has it.
If this is the truth, I am jealous. Like so many other things about my dog, I hope if spend enough time with her, one day this attitude will rub off on me. It’s worth a shot, right?