Think Like a Dog

When you live with a dog for five years, as I have with Mister President, you get to know him pretty well. They’re a beautiful, complex species, but really, they have some fairly simple, predictable behaviors: eat, sleep, play, eat some more. That’s part of what makes them so lovable.

Over the years, I’ve marveled at how straightforward and consistent Mister President’s behaviors are. I often joked with my ex-girlfriend how easy it would be to plot out most of his operating logic in flowchart form; heck, his decision-making flow is so simple I could describe it to most folks in a few words and they’d get it.

A Picture with Words Is Worth a Thousand Words

Still, for an interaction designer, what fun would it be to just describe it when I could make a diagram out of it? Which is just what I’ve done this evening, finally completing a flowchart that I’ve scribbled numerous times and recounted in conversation even more often over the years. It’s not a comprehensive topography of his logic, to be sure, but it does chart the most crucial routine of all: eating.

Gawd, I hope more people find it funny that I did this than they find it sad.

Logic Flowchart for Mister President
  1. Dogs truly are awesome. Except when this interaction happens:

    —> I need to pee…right now…on this area rug…that is covers this nice hardwood floor…that my pee will inevitably stain if my owner doesn’t clean it in time.

    (But then again, when that does happen, ultimately, it’s probably my own fault for not taking my pooch for a walk.)

  2. This is possibly the greatest blog post in the short history of the medium. To compare and contrast, this a similar flowchart for my cat:

    Am I alive?
    (answer doesn’t matter)

  3. Fantastic! What about the Did I eat too much? > Throw up > (sorry, but we have to be accurate here, the hideous but inevitable loop back to) Can I eat it?

    I love Jeff’s cat version.

  4. Hahaha! Dogs are cute. This flow chart describes my dog pretty nicely, with a little difference:

    Did s/he give it to me?
    Make a sad face and stay mad @ Avinash.

    I never disappoint him since the day I realized that he just won’t eat if I say no.

  5. This is genius! Hillarious and true.

    It seems you have a fairly smart dog. Ours, on the other hand, is probably less intelligent than a rock. I think it’s because she’s blonde (but hey, she’s cute).

  6. I don’t even have a dog and I find this hilarious.
    Who can’t appreciate a good flowchart?
    Why, unfunny, boring people that’s who.

  7. Haha, thats just hilarious!

    Me and my girlfriend got us a Weimaraner/Wachtel (mixed breed) almost three months ago and she is just like that. But she is in that age where “Did it taste good? > No” should point at “Eat it anyway!”.

  8. I think for most dogs you can probably even take away the “Is it safe to try eating?” because they will probably try anyway hahaha.

  9. Wow. Dogs really are predictable. For mine about the only thing you could add in is:

    is this my toy?
    does it have a squeaker
    squeak it incessantly until someone throws it

  10. That was hilarious!

    Just if you would of added a few “chase my tail instead” blurbs.

    I do not own a dog currently, but have owned numorouse dogs in teh past, and I have often wanted to set up a few cameras at home to record what they do through the day while I am gone.

    Deep inside I know I will be let down by the fact that they probably do exactly what your chart says at the top.

    I always like to think that it turns into a more cartoonish scenario like in, “All Dogs Go To Heaven” or something like that.

  11. I am sure I know humans whose logic follows this pattern (and only this pattern) precisely. Especially the Beg. Did I get it? No. Beg. Did I get it? No. Beg part….

  12. This is awesome!

    Mr Cooper would certainly fall under this group if it were with water. That dog could drink the ocean dry -of course he has the smallest bladder ever to go along with it.

  13. Having an 11 year old lab, this chart fits her perfectly, especially the never-ending loop of begging until the food is given. The only part missing is the puddle of drool on the floor that builds up with each “no” answer to “Did he/she give it to me?”

  14. Hah! This reminds me of a friend who used to own an African Bullfrog. These things start out tiny and eventually grow to the size of a dinner plate. Used to joke that the frog had only three simple considerations when it came to food:

    1. Fits in my mouth
    2. Doesn’t fit in my mouth
    3. Someday will fit in my mouth!

  15. Maybe this is way, way too nerdy to ask, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Is your naming of your dog “Mr President” in anyway homage to the movie The Last Starfighter?

  16. No, it’s not, at least not purposefully. I saw “The Last Starfighter” when I was a kid (in its original theatrical run, scary enough) but I don’t remember “Mr. President” figuring into the plot. Was it something buried in my subconscious? Do I need to rent it again?

  17. I like it! I’ve never owned a dog apart from a brief period when we had a Dalmation (which was big and crazy!) when I was about 8 or 9. The things was so big and hyper it uses to pull me and my brother on a sledge (or sled for your U.S. peeps) in the winter, it was like a horse. Ultimately after a few months we had to let it go as it was seriously hyper and we couldn’t look after it.

    Other than that I always had cats growing up, they definitely are simpler creatures, but generally a lot more selfish than dogs. I’m not sure what a flow chart for cats would look like but it would definitely include sporadic periods of tail chasing, coupled with running maniacally around the house. I once had a cat that used to climb the wallpaper in my house (a kind of woven wallpaper) and then jump onto you when you passed by!

  18. Have you been talking to my dogs? I think they were trying to draw this for me in the dirt the other day?

    Or maybe they were just trying to eat the dirt…

  19. Khoi: Otis, the stereotypical “wise black man” character in the Last Starfighter had named his dog “Mr President”. And I’m embarassed I know that.

  20. Absolutely classic post!! Oh, to live the simple life of a dog…

    Great observation on canine behavior, Khoi. If Interaction Design loses your interest, I think that Cesar on “The Dog Whisperer” could use your services.

  21. You forgot the vomit green slime and/or shit dribble diarrhea from point A to point B (point B being where the nap state will be entered) modalities.

    Should occur after the yes branch of the “should I eat it anyway” state.

  22. Rick,
    Something to pass on to your parents (since you were a child at the time your family “got” a dalmation):
    Dogs and all living beings that you bring into your house become your dependants – in the same way as when you have children. If one of your children happens to be crazy and hyperactive, do you also “get rid of it” because you can’t care for him/her?
    This great flowchart just goes to show how awesome dogs are and it is a blessing to be a guardian to such a lovely, living creature.


    Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. – Thomas Edison

  23. This really is the best flowchart EVER. As a cat person who has recently joined households with my dog-owning fiance, I’ve often struggled to understand his canine’s puzzling behaviour, especially her ineluctable urge to eat the contents of my kitties’ litter boxes…over and over again. This certainly pulls the essence of being a dog into a nice neat little package — thanks for that!

  24. Great diagram. tried it on a neighborhood dog. i don’t have a dog.
    i am now waiting for the results..I’ll let you know…

  25. This is astonishingly brilliant!!

    And don’t be embarrassed, Andrew ~ The Last Starfighter was brilliant as well. What a great plot and characters!!

    Khoi – could you work out the flowchart for the doggie introduction protocol next?

  26. Master Theodore B. Goodpaws sat aside me while I read this to him, and the singular reaction was a whine, and a glance toward the “treat” jar (repeat until treated).

    As I’ve oft’ repeated, concerning “friends” – a dog may do it in the yard, but he will NEVER do it on you.


  27. My dog wants your dog to know that some ‘inedible’ things become edible and/or taste better upon being thrown. Take the icky-tasting/inedible thing, drop it at dad’s feet. This works great, for example, for tennis balls, which after having been thrown can be summarily de-fuzzed and eaten — and the green fuzz in your poop is also entirely awesome and sometimes even glows in the dark.

  28. Great chart! However, you’re missing something. As a long-time dog owner, I know that after “Did it taste good? -> no” there should be a loop for “Eat more to see if taste improves” … 🙂

  29. Very funny. I just gave a print to my process-oriented manager who owns a dog who has eaten: pantyhose, safety razor, glass Christmass ornament. She howled with laughter and said it’s now one of her “classics.”


  30. Grateful for the great graphic….and grateful to be loved by my 3 dogs. Can’t stop wagging my tail in appreciation!

  31. As the “mother” of two Weimaraners, I can attest to the validity of this flowchart. More so for one of my Weims than the other (e.g., the one who countersurfs and decided he was going to try to open a bottle of Windex yesterday when I was gone!)

    The Dalmatian story makes me sad. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Sounds like that dog needed some training, regular strenuous exercise, and a job.

    We live in the heart of an urban center with two high-energy Weimaraners. As long as they’re exercised on a regular basis, they’re pretty chilled out and mellow.

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