Dogs can be creative too!

Written by Kev

It’s actually pretty much the same as how humans have creativity and whether it is used and expressed, or not, has more to do with whether it has been encouraged and cultivated or crushed and controlled.

Most of us domesticated dogs have a strong desire to please our humans – after all everything in our life depends on our humans so you can understand why we have this very strong instinct.
I guess we are quite similar to small humans in that way, in that their survival also depends on their belonging to their family unit too.

So, I think the first things that Bodhi and I needed from our human was permission and encouragement to know that it was OK to think for ourselves and to stop working from the playlist of tricks that we had previously learned.

We particularly needed encouragement when we tried something new and different. It took us a while to understand it was new and novel behaviour that our human was looking for. Once we got that, we had to stop going through that ‘things learned in the past’ part of our brain and we could get creative and play with what was right in front of us – and recently that has been a Styrofoam box.

In the lead up to writing this article we’ve been cultivating our creativity by playing the “101 things to do with a box game”.

It’s a game where we are rewarded for trying new and novel behaviours as long as it is somehow related to the box.

I thought I was great at this game as I pulled out all the ‘tricks’ I’ve learned over my lifetime that I can somehow apply to this box – tap, tap with the other paw, one paw in, two paws in, fully ‘in the box’, sit, stand, turn around in the box etc, I was even rewarded for hopping out of the box.
When the box was upside down, I could put two paws on the box, and I could stand on it and sit on it.

BUT then, once I got a few treats for doing these things, I would stop getting treated for them! Now this baffled me.

My human is usually quite predictable at dispensing treats, especially when she has our Clickers in hand – but I was no longer getting ‘clicked’ for doing all the usual things.

I was stumped. How was I going to get treats now as I had run out of learned tricks?

My human did strange things with the box like putting it on its side and on its end, and propping it in different ways against stools, and we would start from scratch again with our interactions with the box.

After a while I realised that I was being rewarded for ANYTHING, even looking at, smelling, or nudging the box and then I was getting rewarded for this weird flowy head movement I’d never done before!

So, I was rocking this awesome new head movement – I had it down pat and was repeating it perfectly every time – and then the reward stopped – OMG sooooo frustrating! I had to find something new again.

You know it is sooooo much easier to just repeat the same stuff over and over again, especially when you’ve always been rewarded for that.

The whole process of coming up with something novel to do with the box is still a bit new and different for me, I wonder if it will become easier the more we practice?

That’s what happened with our sniffy-walks anyway, the more we did it the more natural and normal it felt. The more I use this new part of my brain, the more easily it will come to me.

Just you wait, soon I’ll be pulling out fancy new moves for any old Styrofoam box!