The woo. It hurts sometimes.
On the one end of the spectrum you have people who try to accept that the animal in question knows what it is doing and is buying cookies with a leaf. On the other end of the spectrum you have people who reject that the dog is buying cookies with a leaf and how can this be real.
Language . . . plays an enormous role in the structuring of a human mind, and the mind of a creature lacking language — and having really no need for language — should not be supposed to be structured in these ways. Does this mean that languageless animals “are not conscious at all” (as Descartes insisted)? This question always arises at this moment as a sort of incredulous challenge, but we shouldn’t feel obliged to answer it as it stands. Notice that it presupposes something we have worked hard to escape: the assumption that consciousness is a special all-or-nothing property that sunders the universe into two vastly different categories: the things that have it . . . and the things that lack it. . . . While the presence of language marks a particularly dramatic increase in imaginative range, versatility, and self-control . . . these powers do not have the further power of turning on some special inner light that would otherwise be off.Daniel Dennett
This kind of behavior is easy to train, even by accident. Like the football dog in a previous story, the dog in the image above was given a treat for a leaf at some point. The connection was made and the dog thinks it can get food for leaves, reinforced every time someone gives him food in exchange for leaves. He doesn’t just go to this one place. I’m sure of this. And not to everyone, either. He’s going to favor people and places where reciprocation has occurred before. It’s not even a stretch of a dog’s mental ability, depending on the dog.
To summarize. The dog doesn’t know he’s paying for anything. He trades leaves he can’t eat for food that he can eat. Leaves that are available all over the place. He does this with people in places he knows will give him food for leaves. It is truly amazing what dogs can do, but we need to be careful not to anthropomorphize their behavior. Because they aren’t people, they are dogs.