So Just How Smart Are They?

This article was first published 6 years ago in my regular column in the Vernon Edition of The Daily Courier. Sadly, Charlie is no longer with us, having died at the grand age of 14. He did, however, in his final years, manage to pass on some of his “wisdom” to “Yo”, our present canine family member.

Charlie figured out how to pull our emotional strings!

We’ve got it all wrong! We have not domesticated our canine companions – they have domesticated us! Think about it. Who works the extra hours to earn the hard cash that buys the kibbles we put in their bowls? Who rushes home so that we can take Fido for a walk? Who covers their vet bills? So just how smart are they?

Dogs have been a part of my family life since childhood. I’ve learnt that some of them are smart, whilst others, as in human populations, may be one brick short of a full load. Their smartness may not have human qualities, but in their own, down to the necessities of life way, they can be very smart. It has been said that a dog has the intellectual abilities of a 3 year old child and the emotional development of a teenager – I find that accurate. I don’t know whether our Portuguese Water Dog, “Charlie”, actually thinks but his actions lead my wife and I to believe he is smart when it comes to getting what he wants.

For instance, we are constantly organising our lives around Charlie’s schedule, putting his well being and happiness first. The interesting thing is that he is so responsive to that sort of attention. With a little careful study, we have discovered his body language speaks volumes about his feelings. We get silent feed back – most of it is positive, which gives us a warm fuzzy feeling that encourages us to indulge him further.

For instance, I take simple pleasure in watching Charlie do the things he loves – such as eating sardines, his favourite food. He will first eat the less interesting stuff, leaving the smelly fish until last. After he has savoured the last morsel he will prance joyfully around the house, running rings around us, tail gyrating wildly, licking his lips and giving ecstatic sneezes. Of course, we encourage him; “Sardines Charlie! Wasn’t that good!” He will run his muzzle along any soft furniture to wipe off the remnants. Spreading the odour of tinned sardines around the house is, perhaps, his way of letting us know just how yummy they were. Or maybe, he figures, if the odour lingers long enough, I might remember to give him sardines again tomorrow.

He loves walking with me as much as I with him. It brings us both health and vitality, and we both make lots of new friends. Charlie is smart because he uses positive feed back to get more of what he wants. Some humans have yet to learn that trick.

Charlie is not perfect and his main vice is counter “surfing”. Several times I have removed a fresh loaf from the bread maker and left it to cool on the counter. The door bell or phone rings and when I return to the kitchen a minute later I find Charlie licking the last remaining crumbs from the metal paddle that was seconds earlier inside the warm bread. He definitely knows what coming next but always gives me that “Ok, but it was worth it” look as he dashes for the door.

We have also learned never to leave a plate unattended – even for a few seconds, for Charlie will sneak over and start removing the contents. And he is smart about it too; he will carefully remove the tastiest morsels leaving the cutlery undisturbed on the plate. If we’re away long enough, the plate will be dishwasher clean and I’m left scratching my head, wondering whether we have already eaten or have yet to serve up. He really has this figured out because we rarely catch him in the act even if there is still food left on the plate. When he hears us coming he slinks off and parks himself on his favourite piece of furniture, gazing into the doggy distance and pretending nothing has happened. Maybe, in that canine brain, he realises that Mommy and Daddy’s dinners are sacred and he better not get caught taking them!

Charlie is special, because unlike previous dogs I have known, he has taught me new respect for the animal kingdom. We are, after all, animals ourselves, although arrogance tends to put us above other species. We experience the same basic emotions as our canine companions and these cross the species gap in both directions. In our fast moving, technological world, this has helped us establish a healing connection with nature. No wonder pets are good for our mental and physical health.

Our relationship with our canine companions is evolving. In our modern world few dogs truly work for a living in the traditional sense. They are, instead, becoming our valued companions and healers. They do not have to worry where their next meal is coming from or who will look after them when they grow old. They just have to express spontaneous joy and unconditional love in exchange for all their needs. Now that’s smart!

For more of my canine images

Why do all the work when there’s a gullible human willing to do for you!