Excerpt: 'The Sense of Being Stared At'

I was always most careful to give my cat no clues when we were due to visit the vet, but from the moment I got up in the morning she viewed me with suspicion. She was very wary of me (not her usual loving self) and as the time to leave home approached she would try to escape. — Jean Segal, london

There are hundreds of similar stories on my database. And in a survey I described in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, my research associates and I asked all the veterinary clinics listed in the North London Yellow Pages whether they ever found that some cat owners canceled appointments because the cat had disappeared. Sixty-four out of sixty-five clinics had cancellations of this kind quite frequently. The one exception was a clinic that had abandoned an appointment system for cats, because cancellations had been so frequent. People simply had to show up with their cats, and so the problem of missed appointments had been solved.

One of the commonest ways in which dogs seem to pick up their owners' intentions is by anticipating walks. No one thinks this is strange if the walk is at a routine time, or if the dog sees its person picking up the leash, or putting on outdoor clothes. But some dogs anticipate walks at nonroutine times, even if they are in a different room.

Tammy, our Maltese, always knew when we were going for a walk even though she was sleeping in the garage when we made our decision and would come racing in to the bedroom all so excited, jumping up and down. We could never figure out how she knew, as it wasn't a regular thing at a regular time or day. We wouldn't have changed our shoes or clothes but she always seemed to know.— Gillian Coleman, Australia

There are more than a hundred such stories on my database. Of course, the fact that many people think their dogs are reading their minds, rather than picking up subtle sensory cues, does not prove that they really are doing so. But I take seriously the opinions of people who know their animals well and have had years of experience in observing them. Nevertheless, the most convincing evidence is that which comes from experimental tests specifically designed to eliminate explanations in terms of sensory clues and routine.

In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, I describe an experiment in which dogs were shut up in an outbuilding and videotaped continuously. At randomly chosen times, their owner, who was inside her house, silently thought about taking them for walks for five minutes before actually doing so. In most of these tests, during this five-minute period the dogs went to the door and sat or stood in a semicircle around it, some with their tails wagging. They remained in this state of obvious anticipation until their owner came to take them for their walk. They did not wait by the door in this way at any other times.

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