Bella the beagle loves boxes from Amazon. She tears into them, while ignoring other deliveries. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post but has never met Bella.)
Little Bit, a recently departed tortoiseshell cat, was similarly obsessed — but with socks. She would raid the laundry basket in the middle of the night and paw through the open suitcases of houseguests, who invariably found themselves one sock short in the morning.
Pets do quirky things. At least it may seem that way to their humans. But these traits often make perfect sense to the pets, say scientists who study animal behavior. Such conduct often is a modern incarnation of their evolutionary roots, and also draws upon their current bond with humans.
“These behaviors are not invented on the spot,” says Carlo Siracusa, associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “They are an evolution of the behavior of their ancestors that have been adapted to their new lives as domesticated animals now that they are living with humans.”
Still, dogs also can learn from humans, much as children learn from adults — in fact, many times, they learn even better than children. “If you show children how to do something and give them unnecessary steps, children will copy them,” says Angie Johnston, director of the Canine Cognition Center and Social Learning Laboratory at Boston College. “But once dogs figure out how to do it, they stop the unnecessary steps. Dogs figure out faster than children what the endgame is.”
Even so, their ancient instincts persist. Dogs, for example, often “make their beds” — as humans describe it — by scrabbling on blankets, sheets or doggy beds, then turning a few times before settling down, a habit that probably comes from an age-old instinct to create a safe, warm place to sleep.
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“Think about where animals sleep in nature,” says Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona. “They mat down an …….