Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pros and Cons of Having an Intelligent Dog

(Dumb Biggie because he let us throw snow all over his head? Or Smart Biggie because he taught us the "Bury Me in Snow" game?)

This sounds like the title to a dumb post. After all, who wouldn't want to have a smart dog, right? But intelligence is different from obedience, trainability, and energy level, and a smart dog isn't necessarily an easy dog.

People who don't know Biggie or the kuvasz breed sometimes think that he is "dumb" because he's not particularly obedient, he does everything at his own slow pace, and he is basically silent unless he's guarding. The rest of the time, he moves slowly, doesn't always make direct eye contact, and definitely doesn't have the perky, "ohboyOHBOYwhatarewegonnadoNEXT?!?!?" look that border collies seem to have perfected. Since he's not totally focused on people, preferring to keep tabs on them without looking like he is, they underestimate him and forget he's around until he Anal Torpedoes them with a sly grin on his face.

PRO: Biggie knows lots of tricks and commands and picks them up within a few tries...
CON: ...but he only does them when he feels like it, and would much rather learn new tricks than practice his old ones.

PRO: Makes up his own new games and teaches people how to play them just by using body language...
CON: ...Not all humans want to play Anal Torpedo, Hide-and-Seek, Indoor Football, or Bobbing For Rocks. And sometimes even I don't understand the games he wants to play (What game involves a rope bone, puppy bed, towel, and metal food dish at the same time?)

PRO: An intelligent dog is a great problem solver.
CON: An intelligent dog is a great problem solver: will find ways through or around every obstacle if properly motivated, including unlatching doors, training and manipulating humans, and knowing just how far to take the naughtiness.

PRO: Is a great communicator.
CON: Can be demanding. (Luckily Biggie doesn't do this, but some smart dogs with a high energy level will find ways to communicate their desire to eat, drink, go out, and play whenever they want, which is not always when YOU want. If you have a vocal dog, he will quickly figure out that barking leads to attention.)

More CONS: 

CON: An intelligent dog is harder to forgive, because he *knows* he's being naughty, and chooses to do it anyway.

CON: Difficult to dupe. (Our old dog, Boo, was not so good at coming when called, but we could always dupe him by jingling our keys and asking, "Want to go in the car?" Not so some other dogs we know.)

CON: Can be stubborn, because they know how far they can take it, and because they can't be duped. If you have a dog with an independent temperament, this will be a challenge because they won't do stuff just to make you happy; you have to show them it's in their best interest to comply. And even then sometimes they act like they aren't really being obedient - like Biggie executing the "down" command during his Canine Good Citizen test.

CON: May start to train his humans. 

The upshot? You have to be smarter than your dog, and aware all the time of what the dog is learning from you. And since dogs aren't people, you can't reason with them, bargain for good behavior, or explain why they should really listen to you. Given how many WTFs out there own dogs, maybe it's a blessing that there are obedient and dopey ones out there.

(Update: As I post this I see Biggie trotting off in the shadows holding something in his mouth. Why do I just KNOW this is not an "approved item"?)


Lindsay said...

Great post! People often say their dog is dumb if he doesn't learn a trick right away and that's not always true. The smartest dogs are often the hardest to train.

In all honesty, Ace is pretty easy to train, but I don't think he's very smart compared to a lot of other dogs I know (must be the hound in him).

jan said...

Love this post. My current dogs understand everything I say to them and are mostly cooperative in obedience. But one of the dogs from my past, and I won't mention the breed so as not to offend any of your readers was rather slow. He didn't seem to ever get that he was left alone and could get into trouble. Or he could never think of anything to do. I loved that dumb dog so much.

Saint Lover said...

I think people really underestimate the intelligence of a LGD. And can not truly appreciate to what degree with out close contact with one. They have been breed for centuries to think independently of the herder. What seems like a good idea to the owner, is not necessarily a good idea to the LGD. Consider yourself lucky he will entertain your wishes :wink:

But in all seriousness... they are majestic dogs with incredible attributes. The pros certainly out weigh the cons if you are the type of owner that can be calm assertive and in charge. Which you obviously are.

Mango said...

Great example!

When Mango has something in his mouth that he shouldn't, he goes to the back door and stands there with his head kind of droopy. Dexter, on the other hand, will vanish into the "dog" room and be very quiet so that we think he is sleeping.

Dexter is also smart enough to know where he isn't supposed to be (like on the couch) and never lets us actually see him there (although the couch is often warm when I get up in the morning).

Mango Momma

Stanislaw said...

Mom calls me the Evil Genius. I use my brains for naughtiness only. For example, my humans purchased 'dog-proof' garbages with latches and locks on them. Well... I happen to enjoy garbage very much and within a week had each and every latch figured out. HA! But Come when called? HECK NO!

I can also open closet doors to feast on show leather and have been known to open the bedroom door to vomit on the human's bed. SWEET! Somehow (my humans are yet to figure out how) I can let myself into my crate and shut the door behind me. That's usually when I bury items of fabulous naughtiness for night time enjoyment when my people have gone to sleep. They never know!

All I have to say is ~ Evil genius is way more fun!! Keep it up, Biggie boy!

Georgeous said...

There's nothing like a good puzzle to work out. I loved working out how to get out, over, through and around the stairgate, even my hoomans couldn't always work out how I did it.
Glad you had some snow to enjoy Biggie & hey, you taught your hoomans a new game.

Amber-Mae said...

Very good post. Yes! Intelligent are nottier & much more stubborn. Among us three, I'm the most intelligent becoz yes, I can learn stuff pretty fast & always understand what my Mommy says or ask me to do, but most of them time I do things when I want to. I am stubborn at times, not demanding or the barky type but I find other ways to get my hoomans' attention. I'm a cunning blond girl! Hehehe! The other two are hopeless. What can I say?

Butt wiggles,
Solid Gold Dancer

with love, Madison said...

I love this post. I have re-read it many times. Booker was a very smart dog, but SMART as in trainable not as in independently wily ... I had a Springer Spaniel as a kid, and that dog thought it was a human, but not a necessarily brilliant human ... now we are considering Madison's destiny. At four months old, she seems smart as a whip (H-Mom already calls her PISTOL) and she certainly moves at her own pace. She sits on command, but after considering the outcome. And she has excellent recall, but really expects to be acknowledged. There is something in her eyes that makes you go "hmmmmmmmmmmmm ..." You can see the wheels working ...

Lindsay said...

Hey, I don't think I ever told you I like how you added the big picture at the top of your blog. I know it's been like that for awhile.

Karen said...

ha ha ha, your mom is so jealous that you are so much smarter than she is!!!!!!

I love to ignore my mommy when I don't want to do stuff. Sometimes she will try to bribe me with cheese or treats and it makes her so angry when I DON'T LISTEN.

Balboa & Mommy said...


This comment was supposed to me from ME.... Balboa.

ha ha ha, your mom is so jealous that you are so much smarter than she is!!!!!!

I love to ignore my mommy when I don't want to do stuff. Sometimes she will try to bribe me with cheese or treats and it makes her so angry when I DON'T LISTEN.