One day, as I gobbled up my lunch, I looked down and saw the uncomfortable yet familiar image of my dog watching me eat with begging puppy eyes. I stopped mid-chew and wondered, “How long has he been there, waiting patiently for a scrap of food? I hope he doesn’t consider me a self-absorbed dog dad. What does he really think about me?”. I snapped out of my reflections as I thought, “Surely animals don’t think…” But do they? 

a dog watching food on the table, does an animal, dog is capable of thinking

Can dolphins be trained to solve calculus?
Do mice plot and scheme the downfall of their enemies?
Do cats ruminate on life’s great tragedies?
Do reptiles wonder about the effects of industrialization?
No one seems to be sure.

Indeed, if animals could communicate with us in our language, we would get our answer by simply asking them. But they essentially can’t speak to us in a way we can understand, so we’re mostly blind to their side of the story. How then do we unravel this mystery? To whom/what do we turn? My answer is “history.” The controversy concerning the sapience of animals did not start today, with many of the earlier philosophers seeming to relish the debate. For example, Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle, who lived from 384BC to 322 BC, has one of the earliest recorded thoughts on the subject. He firmly believed that animals, like plants, were a part of nature and summarily existed for the sake of humans. According to him, animals had no capacity for thought or reasoning.

Dang Aristotle!
I wouldn’t like to be a cat in your household!

But Aristotle was not alone in this assertion. A few millennia after him, Rene Descartes, the popular 1600s French thought leader and mathematician widely regarded as the first modern philosopher, would give even more credence to that idea. In fact, Descartes is quoted as going as far as describing animals as soulless machines that had no rationality and acted based on reflex. 

funny animals

 However, as centuries passed and the scientific process began to dominate over simple conjecture, more experts began veering away from the traditional position of the older European philosophers.  This newfound belief that animals could indeed think was championed by Charles Darwin and remains till today. Nowadays, after decades of research on the subject matter, scientists can say with a great degree of confidence that animals are capable of varying degrees of thought or rationality. But why did it take this long for humans to finally accept that animals could rationalize, even on some level? Is it simply arrogance on our part – as humans – to ascribe dumbness to animals? Careful observation of the animals around us should have revealed their smartness and ingenuity. Did you know that termites have a complex communication system and function in a caste system with a strict hierarchy? Oh, they do. Within the colony, each member thoroughly understands their role. 

cartoon termites

For example, the soldier-termites know to block the entrance and exit tunnels and to kill enemy soldiers. Conversely, the workers understand that their role is different – digesting cellulose in wood and using the nutrients to feed the rest of the colony. How could they do this without even a little bit of rationality? I’m asking you, Aristotle! 

termite caste system, do animals think

 Now let’s move on to an animal that couldn’t be more different from termites – dolphins. They are also social animals that demonstrate great intelligence and judgment. It is said that they have one of the most distinct language systems in the animal kingdom – so complex that even humans have yet to decipher it. But it’s not only dolphins that possess incredible communication skills… Elephants have also long been known to interact with each other via subsonic sounds that travel underground for several miles. Surely, there must be some thinking process involved in decoding those signals! Furthermore, scientists are now discovering remarkable intelligence in some animals that they hitherto would hardly have expected. A good example would be alpacas, which we now realize are intelligent, witty creatures with a truckload of personalities


 So, do animals think? I would quite confidently say they do. To grasp this, the first step is to recognize that humans are technically “animals,” too. We might be at the top of the food chain, but we’re still “animals”; sorry if that upsets you. Do they think the same way we do or in a language familiar to us? Most probably not, but there’s no denying the fact that they have their own unique cognitive capacities.

What’s more remarkable? 

cute monkey animals in the wild

Animals don’t care about proving to us how smart they are. They, in most ways, are self-satisfied and responsible; I believe we humans have a lot to learn from that (or how to live our lives). For example, animals are smart enough not to create waste or trash. They don’t torture or maim billions of other animals or engage in mindless warfare. They don’t defraud, cheat, or discriminate based on appearance or possession of designer outfits. They don’t deplete the earth’s natural resources for selfish, personal gain. They’ve learned to live simply and in communion with nature. What better evidence of a robust thinking ability do we need? I think it’s high time humans began to respect animals and remember that they are valid mutual co-occupants of this planet.

When we humble ourselves, we have a lot to benefit from seeking to understand animals. Who knows, perhaps when my dog watches me eat at the dinner table, he’s only wondering why I’m not making healthier food choices… 

funny picture, weekend plans for the dog

More info:

Bears are NOT carnivores, or Stress has an odor, and our dogs can smell it…

 What’s the fastest airborne animal?

 The purpose of dolphins’ BRAIN net may finally be understood

Guest post, written by Laolu Ogundele 



  1. Yes, hard to imagine how people think they don’t think! I had a friend once who, when seeing my dogs doing precisely what I had asked them to do, said it wasn’t because they understood me, but that they were just responding appropriately to sounds – which I said was pretty much a definition of effective language communication.

    1. Author

      sadly, but its still happening – some humans feel superior to animals & nature … but we know the truth 😉 🐕😀

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