The other day walking with my friend Eddie, his dog, who loves the ball, would not stop barking at his backpack, he seemed to know that his precious treasure was there.
Less lucky were the two chihuahuas who were waiting crying at the door of the supermarket looking towards the door through which their owner had entered quite disconsolate.
What all these dogs have in common
What all of these dogs have in common is a cognitive ability known as object permanence . Studied by the psychologist Jean Piaget within his theory of cognitive development in children, object permanence seems not to be exclusive to humans and appears in other animal species, including our friends, dogs.
What is object permanence?
Object permanence is the cognitive function that allows us to understand that just because an object is hidden from view, it does not mean that it has vanished, but that it has to remain where it went.
wizards and dogs
There are multiple videos on YouTube where a magician makes a dog treat disappear between his hands before the expectant gaze of a dog. If you have seen them, you will have observed the face of incredulous astonishment of the animal and how it tries to look for it, hallucinated by what seems impossible to it.
Exactly the same reaction is observed in babies between 8 months and one year, when they see how something interesting disappears in an unlikely way.
The conclusion is that both dogs and children are aware that there is something wrong. They know it is impossible.
Dogs waiting at the door of the bar
Have you ever seen a dog calmly waiting for its owner at the door of the bar, a bakery, the gas station or the supermarket. Dogs that wait calmly, clearly accustomed to this situation on a regular basis. What is the reason for this tranquility despite the absence of its owner? That dog is certain that, if he saw his owner enter through that door and did not see him leave, it is because he remains inside . And this conviction is the result of the dog’s ability to understand object permanence; in that case of its owner.
Object permanence and its relationship to memory
Object permanence also allows animals that possess it to remember people and objects, even when they are out of sight. Even if your dog hasn’t seen his favorite toy or your adoring Aunt Carmen days ago, your dog will be able to remember them. Object permanence is therefore closely related to memory.
Not only dogs know how to play hide and seek
Cats have also been tested many times for this cognitive ability of object permanence, and it follows from the results that they also have enough intelligence to know that if a marble rolls under the sofa and doesn’t come out the other end, it must be that it remains. under the.
In addition, both species, dogs and cats have shown another related ability. And it is that in addition to imagining where the disappeared object is, attending to the place of disappearance if they did not see it leave, they are capable of starting the search by combining their cognitive abilities with other sensory tools, such as, for example, their powerful sense of smell.
Use this skill to train with your dog or cat
Nowadays, animal training is much more enriching and fun when the cognitive abilities of these animals are used to the maximum . In the case of object permanence, it is tremendously useful for training waiting. It makes it easier for the animal to wait a few seconds for us to return in a relaxed way, when it has seen us disappear at a specific point.
To train waiting, you can use a tree behind which it “disappears” at very short intervals of time and progressively. In this way, you will be giving your dog the ability to wait in peace knowing that if you have not left yet, you must continue behind the trunk. Of course, do it in very short times or he will break the still to go looking for you. You will have no doubt at this point in the article that, at that moment, your dog knows where you are.
Zentall, T. R., & Pattison, K. F. (2016). Now you see it, now you don’t: Object permanence in dogs. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(5), 357-362.