Blanket Magic

Dogs react to vanishing guardians
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2018, Updated June 2021

The shock that magic can inspire is a reaction to the difference between what happened and what someone expected to happen. What individuals expect to happen reveals a lot about the way their minds work. When dogs watch their guardians disappear behind a blanket and then see nothing when that blanket falls to the floor, they are understandably confused. That’s because dogs are perfectly capable of realizing that something weird is going on when people vanish, and many are upset by this curious phenomenon. In this compilation of dogs (along with one bird and a cat) there are many different reactions to seeing people disappear behind a blanket in a magic trick.

The first dog in the video simply startles to the man’s disappearance, but other dogs act puzzled or even scared. Most of the dogs seem upset to some degree, many exhibit search behavior and most react exuberantly to the reunion when they do find the person who was briefly gone.

At the 2:10 mark, the two dogs behind a gate are especially expressive with their tails. The happy wags give way to stillness when their guardians vanish, and they are unable to search for them because of the gate. Once the people come back into view, their tails and whole bodies become active again.

Not every clip captures a dog reacting to the apparent disappearance of a person. Naturally, there are a number of bloopers—the dogs consider the blanket a tug toy, people toss the blanket on the dog by mistake or fail to get out of sight before the blanket falls to the floor. There are a number of dogs who seem unfazed by what others clearly consider a bizarre experience. I’m especially fond of the Pomeranian just past the five-minute mark who casually goes to lie down on the blanket and shows no clear reaction when a person goes missing.

If you’ve tried this trick with your dog, what was the response?

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life

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