I enjoyed a psychology-lite article on canine intelligence today on TIME.com, and I bet you might enjoy it as well, because you probably have a dog, like I do. People Like Dogs, and honestly I am a bit suspicious of people who don’t. It seems Un-American to not like at least some kind of dog. I mean, I’ve been bit by a dog and have had a few dogs scare the urine out of my bladder. I have had dogs drool great strings of glue-like spit on me, and I have had dogs fart noxious clouds of Alpo gas right in my face. I still like ‘em. Dogs like to be liked, and like to please, and most importantly, like to communicate with us, The Other Species. You have to appreciate that kind of effort. I think we are fortunate that they cannot talk because they would be pretty nonstop annoying, though:



Dog: HEY!

Me: WHAT??


Me: WHAT???????

Dog: You wanna do something? I wanna do something! You wanna do something? I would do something if you wanted to do something. I like bones! Did you see that squirrel? Is is time for dinner yet? Where’s my leash? Do I have to wear a leash? I can go without a leash, let me show you! Really! Come on, Mom! You wanna do something? I wanna do something! Do you have a treat in your pocket? Where’s the ball? Do you remember that time we went in the car and went to that one place? Can we go there again? Do you know what? I don’t like the vet. He pokes me and his place has slippery floors and smells like old cats. If I ate a cat, you would be pretty mad, huh? What about a rat? I caught a bird once. Don’t take me to that bath place again, that really sucked. LET’S GOOOOOOO!

Me: I need to lie down.


I give animals a whole lot of credit, dogs particularly. Just because we can’t speak their language accurately and they cannot speak ours doesn’t mean that they are dumb. Dogs have a range of intelligence and abilities, just like we do. We base that on our scale of what is smart, of course – trainability to do stuff we think up. We have determined that Irish Setters are as smart as the average shoe, and Border Collies are the Einsteins of the canine world, if Einstein were also a jittery maniac.

The lead point to the TIME article is the ability for dogs to accurately learn how to interpret people pointing to objects. This did not seem like news to me, although that dogs seem to be the only animal able to do this was surprising. Apes mess this shit right up. They don’t really want to please anyone. They are only thinking about nits and bananas and fighting and monkey sex. Clever, but self-centered beasts. Dogs like to have a sense of accomplishment, unless it has been bred right out of them (see “fat asthmatic yappy Pekingese"). I like to see a dog with a sense of pride. It’s cute.

I have had two dogs as an adult: Hannah the Leonberger and Ellie the Newfoundland/Maybe Golden Retriever At Some Point. I love them because they are sturdy and soft and pretty and gentle and reliable, and quietly bright. They were both very trainable not because I was a gifted trainer or magnetic to dogs, and not because they were driven by their genes to PAY ATTENTION! DO DO DO DO DO! They are not sharp like that; they just like making connections. I think it makes them feel like part of the family, which is what dogs love the very most, even more than Snausages.

Something that amuses me, and delights those who have seen it, is that both my dogs with no effort at all on my part, will go drink water if I suggest it. “Go get some water,” I say to them, “Go!” and I wave my hand in the general direction of the water bowl, and by god they do it. Now granted, I only do this if I think that they might be or should be thirsty. But it sure is funny. It wasn’t as funny when Hannah would then come over and wipe her face on the nearest person’s pants afterward, though. Ah, yes it was.

It took nearly no effort to train Ellie to ring a bell to go in and out of the house. It took no effort at all to teach Hannah to play hide-n-seek, known in our house as “Come Find Me!” I point, and Ellie goes and lies down. Both dogs knew when I wanted them to sit and stay by just looking at my eyes. I point to the floor by my side, and both of them circle me and sit at my left. Both knew to waaaaaaait for the treat I held right by their noses, waaaaaaait, until I would smile and nod. Both of them knew, who knows how, that “kiss” meant to lick my hand, once.

There is so much in communication and connection that has nothing to do with words, whatever species you are. I know there have been so many times when my dogs have tried so hard to tell me something, and I haven’t been able to understand. You can see how much it means to them, if you pay attention. There is something very touching about that, and quite, quite amazing.

So I respect the minds of our doggie pals, I truly do. I expect them to be smart and to surprise and delight me in the time I am privileged to have them. Unless they have a long red flowing coat. Damn, the Irish Setter is lucky just to be able to breathe on its own.