Saturday, September 19, 2009

Intelligent Dogs

At work there is a young woman – and by “younger”, I mean younger than me – who has a seeing eye dog. This is her second dog since I have known her. We held a retirement party for her first dog, “Penny”, and then she was gone for six weeks while she broke in her new one. This one is a yellow Labrador called “Randy”, and he is young and energetic. We all learned with Penny the do’s and don’t’s for seeing eye dogs and so everyone in the office knew how to relate to Randy. We are not to feed it unauthorized snacks. We are not to let it out of the office. If the dog is “working” we are to leave it alone. But there really isn’t much for the dog to do during the day, so often it appears to be bored out of its mind. The dog is free to wander around the office as long as he is within calling range if he is needed. There are a number of toys for the dog to play with in his owner’s office, but Randy keeps his place pretty clean so people don’t trip over his toys while walking by.

I have to walk past Randy’s office to go out to the soda machine, cafeteria, and at the end of the day as I go home, and I say hello to Randy, but I hadn’t actually spent any time with him. But yesterday I was bored, so I walked to one end of the office where there are windows that look out over the parking lot and the city. Then I thought I would go out to the soda machine and get something. I turned around and, looking down the path I would walk, I saw Randy, about 150 feet away, looking at me. He continued to look at me as I approached, and then when I got close to him, he picked up a rubber ring – one of his toys – and offered it to me. I took hold of it, and there ensued a tug of war for awhile. Then I said, “Do you want me to throw it?” and immediately he let go and got prepared to chase it. I tossed it down the way I had come and he bounded after it, catching it on the second bounce. He brought it back to me and wanted another little tug of war. I said, “Ready?” and he immediately let go and tensed for another run. I threw it and he chased it down. We continued for awhile as I threw the ring down the hall over and over. Each time I would say, “Ready?” and he would get set for another run. Finally he came back and did NOT offer the ring to me, but tossed down on the ground and flopped down next to it. I said, “OK, we’re done” and rubbed his ears. I started toward the door again, and his owner murmured in my ear, “Thanks.”

I got to thinking about other dogs I have played with. One of my daughter’s friends had a dog named “Seven”, a young golden retriever or perhaps yellow Labrador, who had more energy than anyone in their family could really deal with. I was visiting one day because we had been invited over for dinner, when Seven decided he wanted to play. I threw toys all over the house for Seven, until he was completely worn out. Later I heard my daughter’s friend mention to my daughter that I was the only person who had ever worn Seven out. She said Seven slept almost the entire next day.

Then there was Barney, a mixed rotweiller/retriever, who belonged to a friend of ours. Barney was a city dog who easily got car sick, but he liked to come out to the cabin, and after a few trips, began to get over his car sickness as soon as he figured out he was headed toward the cabin. Barney had a herding instinct, I guess, because he was very conscious of the whereabouts of everyone in the family. He would make the rounds of the house in the middle of the night to make sure that everyone was in their right place. I would wake up with a cold nose in my face and reach out to pet Barney and assure him that I was all right, and my wife would do the same. One night Barney came in to check on us when my wife had left the bed to go to the bathroom. People say that dogs don’t really have different expressions, but I tell you, Barney did the most astonishing double take when he looked in the bed for Carol and didn’t find her there. It was so human-like that I nearly laughed out loud. Then Barney put his front feet on the bed so he could get up to see better and looked up and then down the length of the bed for Carol. He was clearly just astounded that she wasn’t there. Finally I said, “She’s in the bathroom, Barney.” I believe he understood what I said because he immediately got down and walked over to where he could see the bathroom door and sat down to wait for her. He waited until she came out and escorted her back to bed where she belonged before leaving to check on the rest of the household.

Another time my daughter came out to the cabin with a new baby. Barney was extremely solicitous of both mother and child, and took it upon himself to monitor the health and welfare of the baby. If my daughter took the baby into the house, Barney would escort her to the door and would be at the door when she came out again. He followed the baby everywhere and sat next to whoever was holding the baby. From time to time he would move to where he could see the baby’s face to make sure it was all right. If the baby cried, Barney (his hearing was better than a human’s) would come right to the mother and move toward the house, looking back to see if she was coming yet. You could almost hear him saying, “Come on, come on, the baby needs you.”

Another friend came to the cabin one time and brought two German shepherds. One was quite old but the other was more frisky. She accompanied me out into the woods where I was working, but when I turned to go, she didn’t want to come. I discovered that she had found what looked like a dead limb that was mostly buried in the leaf thatch that covered the forest floor, and had gripped it in her jaws and was trying to pull it loose. She tugged and tugged at it, and each pull loosened it a little more. After a bit, she finally got it loose and triumphantly hauled it into the meadow – her every expression and body language just shouted “gleeful”. Well, it turned out to be a bit more than a “limb”. It was almost 20 feet long, but she waved it back and forth to show everyone what a great hunter she was. I tried to take it away from her, but only got into a tugging match. Between the two of us, we finally managed to break it up enough to have pieces that were small enough to throw and fetch, which we did for the rest of the day. Hmmm, she slept most of the next day too.

These dogs were all astonishingly smart, but unfortunately not all dogs are smart. When I was young, we had a Chihuahua named “Candi”. This dog was smart and I loved her. She slept in my bed with me at night. She had a litter of pups, all but one of which were sold. The one that didn’t sell was what I would call dumb – D. U. M. When food was put down for them, Candi would eat all of hers and then go to the sliding glass doors that looked out over the patio and bark. Chico (the dumb one) would come to see what she was barking at, and would also start barking, which he kept up for awhile. Meanwhile, Candi went back to the food and ate his too.

I think there is nothing so attractive as intelligence. Dogs – people – intelligence makes them come alive, and that is so very attractive.