Does a dog await an outcome?

At just after three in the afternoon I walk up a muddy path to a 5-bar gate just off Angley Road, and wait for my daughter Rachel to come out of school and meet me there so we can walk back home together. I take the dog with me, and as soon as we get to the gate he starts sticking his nose through the bars of the gate, waiting for Rachel to come into view.
It suddenly struck me today – this is all wrong, isn’t it? Human beings are meant to spend their lives focussing on achievements and waiting for outcomes. Animals are meant to live ‘in the now’, without worrying themselves about what’s past and what’s to come. As a matter of fact this is an important part of Romantic philosophising about the difference between the human mind and the natural world. Humans can’t see things for what they are because their rational, manipulative way of thinking encourages them to focus on desired outcomes and regard the time they have to spend waiting for those outcomes to arrive as ‘dead’ time. You work all week and wait for pay-day, or wait for the weekend to come so you can enjoy yourself. You save up your money so you can buy yourself a car. When you’re young you can’t wait to be grown up. When you’re an adolescent you can’t wait to start having sex. When you’re grown up you can’t wait to become a success, get your own house, or whatever. In this way you wish your life away. Animals don’t do the same. Their lives are much more immediate. They don’t waste their time wishing for things they haven’t already got: they spend them paying attention to the here-and-now, the world of their immediate sensations.
But if you look at my dog and the way he behaves, it’s immediately obvious that none of this is really true. In the morning I take the dog out for a walk, and when we get back from the walk I have to wash up the dishes from the night before and then make breakfast. He spends the entire time I’m washing the dishes fidgeting up and down the kitchen and whining, because he knows breakfast is coming and he can’t wait for it. When I come upstairs to work, so they tell me, he sits at the bottom of the stairs gazing longingly upwards waiting for me to come back down. When we get to the 5-bar gate, he ignores me and pokes his nose through the gate because he’s waiting for Rachel to arrive. So what if it’s the other way round? What if it’s humans who are sometimes able to free themselves from their own greeds and desires sufficiently to be able to appreciate the here-and-now, whereas animals spend their entire lives wanting and waiting, never satisfied with what they’ve got at the moment because their instincts are telling them to go and get something else?
I think that’s probably overstating the case. The dog looks as if he’s enjoying the here and now when he’s having his chest scratched, or when he stretches himself out in front of the fire, or when he’s on a walk and goes sniffing around in the bushes because he’s smelt something interesting. But it’s a good example of how we like to draw a dividing line between ourselves and the natural world, and project all the virtues that we feel ourselves to be lacking onto the far side of that line. If human beings are goal-obsessed, then animals must be free from that obsession. If we’re haunted by ‘futurity’, as Blake calls it, then they must be capable of living entirely in the present. But it isn’t as simple as that.

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