If you’ve been on the internets at all in the past two weeks, you’ve probably seen the amazing merengue-dancing dog. If not, do check this out:
I’ve seen some good canine freestyle dancing, and Milo and I have rocked it out to the soundtrack to “8 Mile” once or twice, but this is different. This dog actually has natural rhythm, which I didn’t know dogs were capable of. As a friend of mine described it:
I didn’t just marvel at how long the dance was, and how many different sub-routines there were, but how darned well the dog just plain moved. There were times when I’d all but swear Carrie was wagging her tail in time to the music.
She has nature on her side when it comes to focusing on her dance partner, but those two move delightfully well together on the dance floor, just like truly good dancers do. It’s something human and dog are doing *together*, for each other. It’s clearly not one-sided, not dog performing for human, but dog and human having a blast together, and on a dance floor at that.
No, you’re not anthropomorphizing; that’s a smile, and a proud one too, of a dog who is interacting with her pack in what she knows is an appropriate way. Clearly, she is loving the attention and the knowledge that she is good at what she is doing. (If you have a dog, and its face doesn’t look like this at least some of the time when you are training it, check out a different training technique. This is how they ought to look. The Milo version of that face is on the last photo of this article.)
Dancing together, whether you are leading or following, requires a solid understanding of your partner’s mind. The extent and nature of this understanding in dogs is what the Canine Cognition Lab (which I wrote about here) is trying to tease out. The social sciences have traditionally had two approaches: idiographic and nomothetic. Idiographic means the study of the individual as distinct from all others; nomothetic means the study of populations and groups. Both have their place. The idiographic approach is better when highly exceptional individuals — savants, children who have been raised in isolation, people with specific kinds of brain damage — can be studied to teach us about the boundaries of the human (or canine) experience. It can also be useful when we simply don’t know enough about a population to even begin to figure out how to test them.
The clever reader has probably figured out what method I think would be best to study dogs, at this point in our knowledge.
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