Dogs. We’ve experienced their uncanny ability to sense things before they happen. From earthquakes to your arrival back home, dogs can predict it all, even if only by a few minutes at best. It might not be commonly known but dogs don’t use verbal language as primary cues to understand what you are saying. It all comes from a grasp on body language and relating your facial expression with expected behaviour.
A huge chunk of human communication is non-verbal in nature and we remain unaware of this fact by virtue of our social habits. We unconsciously pick up signals from the posture, hands, body language and gaze of people with whom we communicate. As an evolutionary tactic, we have developed the ability to see minute changes in facial muscles so that we can detect harmful intentions before another person even makes a move. This is probably a technique that kung fu masters and wild west gun fighters mastered over time – the slightest changes in expressions would alert them to possible methods of attack.
Dogs are one up when it comes to detecting visual cues of intention. Or shall we say one down. I’ve noticed that street dogs tend to focus on feet more than any other part of our bodies. If you are standing right in front of them, craning their necks to look up at your face isn’t really an option so they use feet to decipher your intentions.
A pup, for example, is perpetually intrigued by, and follows, feet – walking feet, running feet, white shoes, squiggly toes – feet are all the little bugger has to go on. If you run, the pup instinctively gives chase and it runs to the point of confusion while being oblivious to other stimuli – like a car hurtling down the road.
I saw two guys sprinting at Marine Drive the other day and when they ran past a pack of street dogs, the dogs instantly growled and gave chase. If you’ve never been chased by a dog running full sprint, you don’t know the sense of dread that follows the hushed sound of claws clicking on the pavement. They run silent as the wind and invoke a very carnal terror.
If you flee, you will be chased. The only remedy is to slow down which might affect your work out but sounds way better than a bite in the calf.
Even when searching for food at the local khau gali (eatery). Dogs will often meander through crowds while constantly classifying feet as possible sources of food. They seem to be acutely aware of feet shuffling in a manner that might mean someone bending down to offer food or perhaps getting ready to kick them in the belly. If you turn your feet towards a dog the reaction is swift – ears turn in your direction, interest is piqued and nostrils flare in anticipation of a treat.
The older, more experienced street dogs have an intelligent look about them, as if they are filtering information just as we do only by different means. In retrospect, it would seem obvious for a dog to have the ability to read humans. We have been living side-by-side for tens of thousands of years and being able to tell the difference between a hand extending to give a treat or a beating would make all the difference in the world.