Thursday, May 19, 2011

When we adopted Shauna, she was already an estimated three years of age. In an earlier blog ("A Sedative for Dogs") I described how I learned to give her strenuous daily exercise by using a mountain bike. I had never had a dog that needed so much exercise, but she taught me how a good exercise program, practiced every day, can act as a sedative for dogs. A welcome side effect: the dog does not try to escape from the yard. A couple of times, we have left the rear gate open and have left the house for several hours, only to find her waiting for us on the front porch. When walking without a leash (in a safe area), and with her running ahead to chase ground squirrels, I can turn and walk in the opposite direction and count the seconds before she notices and comes running after me. It's usually about five seconds. And that's what I want: she must always pay attention to what I'm doing.

I soon learned other things about her. She was extremely agile and quick on her feet, able to jump to the counter-top at our vet's office (when invited) and land cleanly, with no scrambling or skidding, on the one-foot wide granite surface. Like a cat, as the people there put it.. Another characteristic I discovered: she was much more alert to any changes in her environment than any dog I'd ever had. Once, I moved my TV from the living room to the loft upstairs. When I brought her home that evening, she stopped dead in her tracks then entered the living room very carefully. She approached the cabinet where the TV had been, sniffing around. "Something's wrong here!"  She noticed the white cable that now went up the wall in the corner, to the loft above. She sniffed the cable, then stood on her hind legs to reach as high as she could, to figure out this thing. Then she ran upstairs to see it from that end. After that, she never paid any attention to it at all.

I don't claim to be an expert, but I have never measured dog intelligence by the tricks they've been taught. I don't doubt that TV dog performers are very smart, and that lots of dogs could also be trained to follow the hand signals of off-the-camera handlers. But my measure of intelligence is how well the dog figures things out on his own, often things the dog owner wouldn't have even thought of teaching him.

Once I was walking Shauna on a long lead (50 ft.) along a road bordered by a thick hedge and, behind that, an iron fence. She chased a rabbit through the hedge, was blocked by the fence, and ran down along the fence line. When she tried to come back out through the hedge at that point, the lead tightened up as she ran out of slack. She immediately backed up, came back down to where she had first gone through the hedge, and came back out there. To me, that kind of thing is a  true measure of a dog's intelligence. She had a problem, and she solved it in a logical way.

I love my squeaky ball!

Hey, that's my rabbit!

This is so humiliating!

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