Animals’ Fascinating Learned And Instinctual Behaviors

It’s fascinating to me how animals develop expectations that if something happens once it will happen again, if not repetitively.

Today Brownie came in to see us for a routine examination and her mom was telling us about a recent incident in which a mouse came indoors for a visit. Brownie, self-designated protector of the indoors, followed the intruder all around the house until she cornered it under a couch.

Blue, her canine brother and self-designated protector of the outdoors, was nonplused, until the mouse made a break for the front door. Brownie was in hot pursuit, but not quite quick enough to catch the small rodent.

Once Mickey Junior was on the front porch, though, Blue was incensed that Mickey had the audacity to invade his territory, and went after him.

Alas, there is a reason both dogs are on Hill’s Prescription Diet r/d, as both were too chubby to catch Mickey Jr., much less dispatch him.

Now Brownie is obsessed, watching the couch constantly, thinking it was the source of mouse production.

A similar event happened with my cousin, Nell’s cat a few years ago. Miss Kitty caught a mouse between the washer and the dryer. Unlike Brownie and Blue she knew exactly what to do with it and dispatched it after a suitable period of play time.

For years thereafter Miss Kitty would sit for hours and stare at the inter-appliance space, perceiving it to be an automatic feeder.

Raccoons habituated to seeds appearing daily
Raccoons habituated to seeds appearing daily

Our eldest son, Andy, dad to Itty Bitty, used to be a night owl like his mother, and liked to sleep late in the mornings. Itty Bitty’s arrival put an end to sleeping in, though he’s still a night owl. On their recent visit Andy was up early and took some pictures of our own new arrivals, baby raccoons. The trio gathered around the spot where our bird feeder hangs, just as if the waiter were going to arrive any minute to feed them.

I could just picture them saying one to the other, “I’m sure this is the spot, there were seeds here yesterday!”

Likewise, our hummingbirds arrive with confidence that they will be fed, even when the feeder is down for cleaning. They will come back over and over, as if to say, “Just checking!”

To those of us who love them, animals are fascinating, and their learned and instinctual characteristics never cease to amaze us.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

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