Snow Trumps Death

There’s this book I had been reading which pretty much blew me away- It’s called “Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experimens”. ¬†It’s got a few classics like Harlow’s monkeys and Milgram’s shock-machine, but many of the experiments I had never heard of. They really did give acid to an elephant in the ’60s, too- for some reason they decided the proper dose for an elephant was 297 milligrams IM, which is three thousand times the human PO dose. The elephant dropped dead in seconds.

But it also describes an experiment conducted by the University of Western Ontario, investigating whether most dogs would go for help if their owner suddenly dropped dead or were dying. They got twelve dog owners to take their dogs through a park, and they all had specific feigned heart attack behaviors to perform once they reached a marked spot in the park. Then the owner was supposed to collapse. A confederate was seated on a park bench about ten feet away, and the test was to see if the dogs would, upon seeing their owner have a heart attack, run over to the seated person and bark and pull a Lassie.

The results were that every dog was useless in getting help. The dogs “spent some time nuzzling and pawing their owners before taking the opportunity to roam around aimlessly. Only one dog- a toy poodle- directly made contact with the stranger. It ran over and jumped into the person’s lap- not because it was trying to signal that its owner was in distress, but because it wanted to be petted. It probably figured¬†Oh no, my owner’s dead! I need someone to adopt me!

Well I figured that my Buddy would do better than that so I repeated the experiment myself. Jon came with me, so Buddy could inform Jon of my distress when I collapsed over a snowbank:

Snow Dead 1


So there I was, lying unconscious, with my belly button whistling cheerfully. As you can see, Buddy had a passing interest in my predicament, but within ten seconds he found his time was better spent eating large greedy mouthfuls of snow. Buddy loves snow. He thinks it’s ice cream, and prefers it to be full of dirt and dog pee.

Snow Dead 2


I think there’s one major flaw in the study- dogs can easily smell whether or not a person is dead. Dogs have also been reported to smell seizures. Even the smelling part aside, I wonder if in the dog experiment, the dog actually believed the person was dying. Dogs are really good at picking up on a person’s emotions and take their cues accordingly. Buddy probably sensed that I was just lying down and chilling out, since Jon appeared calm and I appeared calm and reclining. Did those people feigning a heart attack actually give off any fear and panic vibes the dog could perceive?

There’s that, or else there really is a possibility that Buddy likes being out in the snow so much that my passing out on ice is worth the opportunity to have extra snow time.