WHEN VIEWING ON A MOBILE DEVICE -- DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM
18 chapter 2
do talk to animals. As obvious as this seems, talking to animals illustrates
that children assume animals are listening to them, that they understand,
and that they will respond to the child’s language in some way. Talking to an
animal indicates that a child assumes the pet has a desire to communicate
with the child.
Consider this simple yet nuanced example: A five-year-old boy, while
helping to unload groceries from the car, called to the neighbor’s dog, Carter,
who appeared to be watching from the yard next door, “We’re just unload-
ing the groceries from the car, Cart.” This example illustrates that the boy
believed that Carter, a Jack Russell terrier, could understand not only the
language the boy was using but also the meaning behind the words. (The
boy also assumed that the dog was interested in what he was doing based
on the fact that the dog appeared to be watching him.) His tone in speaking
to the dog was matter-of-fact, the same tone that he would use had it been
his sister who was watching.
Clearly, the boy has a sense that Carter shares this world with him and is
participating in it in much the same way he is—and was interested in what
he was doing. Using the nickname “Cart” instead of the dog’s full name also
indicates that the boy sees the dog as a peer or a friend, rather than an object
or disinterested party. Children rarely have nicknames for inanimate objects.
It shows that the boy feels familiarity with Carter, much as one would feel
with a human friend.
This example also illustrates that children tend to feel that an animal’s
behavior is a response to whatever the child is doing (remember that the
early childhood years are a very self-centered age). As far as the boy was
concerned, if Carter the dog was watching him unload the car, surely it was
because he was interested in what the boy was doing and why. Dogs are
curious animals, so it’s likely that the dog was indeed watching the boy, but
it’s possible he wasn’t. In reality, the dog could have been watching a nearby
squirrel, birds in the yard, or something else entirely.
A sense of it being “all about me” is a natural feeling, especially in early
childhood. In fact, when asked, most preschoolers in one study indicated
that not only did they believe their pets could think and feel, but also that
when those pets were thinking, they were thinking about that child. When
an excited boy is paired with an equally excited dog, it can feel to the child
as though the dog knows just what the child is feeling and is responding
in kind. This genuine back-and-forth, this sense the child has that the dog
knows what he is feeling and that the dog actually shares that feeling is