How Did Your Dog Brave Hurricane Sandy?
As the storm approached, some dogs were jumpy; others seemed depressed or even bored. But what did dogs actually experience?
Alexandra Horowitz has been considering that question. An associate professor of psychology at Barnard College, she runs a dog cognition lab and is the author of the book, “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.” And, not surprisingly, as the owner of two large dogs — the mutts Finnegan and Upton – her research often starts in the apartment near Columbia where she lives with her husband and their 3-year-old son.
Upton, for example, who is about 4, is startled by sudden sounds.
“He knew about the storm before we told him,” Dr. Horowitz said. “He could have told us about the storm, if we hadn’t been paying attention to the news.”
Upton stopped sitting by the window of their sixth-floor apartment because there were a lot of sudden sounds below, Dr. Horowitz said. “It took us a little while to pick up on that.”
He also probably paid attention to the increase in sudden gusts of wind that seeped into the apartment through a closed window pane, or the sounds of a random piece of scaffolding dropping on the street, she said.
Dogs, Dr. Horowitz said, live in a “kind of sensory parallel universe, noticing and reacting to things that we cannot even detect.” Much of that, she says, is because of a dog’s heightened sense of smell; and she notes that the winds that preceded Hurricane Sandy carried odors.
“Now, do they know it is a storm coming? No, I mean I don’t think they’re defining things that way,” Dr. Horowitz said. “That’s our world.” But they do notice a difference, she said.
Dogs with anxious owners may have also become stressed and hyper-vigilant. “One of dogs’ great adaptations is that they look to us to determine how they should act,” Dr. Horowitz said.
Hurricane Sandy has offered dogs one silver lining. As Dr. Horowitz walks Finn and Upton near Riverside Park and on other familiar routes, she navigates carefully around downed trees, broken branches and leaf effluvia.
While humans she meets may have an emotional reaction to a fallen tree, the dogs are sniffing what is to them “like this new mystery object that’s appeared from outer space.”
“The first dog that passed marks it — then suddenly it’s the new bulletin board for the neighborhood,” she said.
She added: “And the dogs and the humans are just having a really different experience at that moment, I think.”