…when the lights were turned off, dogs in a room with their human owners were much more likely to disobey and steal forbidden food. The study says it is “unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room”… instead it seems as though the dogs were able to differentiate between when the human was unable or able to see them.
Years ago, I had this mystery happen to me. It was real “Hardy Boys” stuff. I was living in a house in a cozy little sort-of enclave of [deleted] that had only one recognized meth dealer, and for some reason I had begun buying butter by the stick.
Usually, I would buy real butter in a tub. But one day, like I said, I bought a box of butter sticks. My mother had done this — actually, it was margarine — for years when I was a kid, I imagine because tubs of the stuff had not yet become popular. Or, I don’t know, who knows what she was thinking. For one thing, she never called it margarine; she called it oleo or butter. The point of the story is that my mental image of butter was a stick of it softening on a saucer in the open air of the kitchen, and so what I did next seemed natural to me.
One day, I made a loaf of bread or something and, you know, in planning ahead, I had put a stick of butter on a saucer and set it on the counter. Eventually, I cut a slice of bread and turned to the plate of butter and — it’s gone. I mean, the plate is there but the butter is gone.
Now, when this happened, I didn’t really think twice. I immediately assumed that I had merely meant to set out some butter and had actually forgotten. I walked to the fridge, took out another stick of butter and set it on the saucer. I scraped off some cold butter onto a slice of bread and thought nothing more about it.
A few hours later, I thought about having dinner and went back into the kitchen. And I immediately noticed the plate that I had put the butter on was empty. This time, my first thought was confusion. I checked the inside of the fridge, to see if I had put the butter plate in there. I checked the freezer, to see if I was even more absent-minded than I thought I was. I checked the cupboard where I kept the plates. I checked cupboards where there were no plates. No butter. And the mysterious thing was, to my eyes, there was no sign of butter on the plate that was on the counter. The same plate I was sure I had put butter on a few hours earlier.
Now, you might have guessed a dog was involved. As I stood there, bemused, I began to wrench my brain in the direction of suspecting one of my two dogs. Suspect No. 1 was a black mixed-breed too short to reach the counter comfortably — so I say — but Suspect No. 2 was a three-legged golden retriever, about 60 pounds and fairly nimble. Still, I found it hard to believe that she both knew the butter was on the counter — she was nowhere near the kitchen when I unwrapped either stick — and was able to get it off the plate without making any suspicious noises.
Any reasonable person would have endeavored to keep the butter in the fridge from then on. My idea was to see if my dog would do it again. I opened the box, pulled out the last stick of butter and set it on the saucer. Then I looked around to see where my three-legged butter thief was. I checked the front room, my bedroom and then walked back through the kitchen to the basement. She wasn’t down there, either. I came back upstairs and guess what I found on the butter plate? Nothing.
Three sticks of butter. One day. And I never figured out, really, which dog was doing it. Or, you know, if it was some kind of Disney-esque team effort.