Oddly enough in my line of work as a behavior consultant, I’d hear that line from a new client during our initial consultation fairly often. And it always puzzled me. My canned response over the years became, “Oh no, I don’t see stupid dogs. They don’t get themselves into enough trouble.” The dogs who came through my doors were overall incredibly intelligent, incredibly good at modifying their human’s behavior, and at making associations, just more often than not in ways that the humans didn’t really appreciate. The dogs who came through my doors overall often had their intelligence very underappreciated. Which again I found rather puzzling.
I mean honestly. Look at the amazing feats the canine species has accomplished over their evolution. Here is a species that has developed a relationship with a host (humans) to where we humans literally take food out of our mouths, let me say that again We LITERALLY Take Food Out of Our Mouths to give it to them. We let these predators into our homes. They sleep in many of our beds here in the States. They have 42 really sharp, strong teeth, they can crush bone with those teeth and jaws, yet they’ve got us fawning over them. Sharing their cute puppy faces on social media. I see more TV and internet ads about ‘we need to stop the abuse and save these poor animals’ than I ever do about children in poverty, or abuse, or homelessness. How can these animals not be intelligent?! They are little genius’! And it’s so fantastically awesome to think about.
Sometimes when I see my dogs doing something or I think about a behavior that just happened, I get so excited. Like I remember a behavior pattern that became clear with my 1st cardigan, Monty and one of my flat coats, James, years ago. Frequently when a certain friend called to tell me she was almost to my house, I would end the call with, “See you in a minute.” Then of course shortly after she would arrive. My dogs learned, completely with no influence from my other than my saying the phrase in conversation to my friend, that “See you in a minute,” as I hung up the phone meant Li was coming to the house and the excitement level of the dogs in the house would instantly ramp up and they would rush to the door waiting for her car to pull up.
Or I used to have my computer desk set up near one of the windows at the front of the house. And apparently I had a habit of leaning over to look out of the window when I heard the mail truck pull up. Niche, another flat coat in my life, learned to associate if I leaned over to look out that window it meant we were shortly after likely to go out to get the mail. And there he would be, at the door, dancing and prancing with anticipation. Of course if I leaned over to look out that window without then getting up to go get the mail, well, I’m sure you can imagine Niche’s “What are you doing?! It’s mail time! Let’s go!!!” (Niche could be a very intense, very persistent dog)
There are countless other examples where a behavior I was doing unconsciously or subconsciously (or sometimes even intentionally) became paired for my dogs with something they enjoyed (or sometimes disliked) and influenced their behavior. Not until I observed the chain of events, could I then figure out and marvel at ‘wow that is so cool!’ (even when it’s a behavior I then plan to modify or change.) The fact that the dogs observed their environment to that degree to make such an association is just WOW so awesome. I frequently find myself wishing human beings would be so observant.
Most of the dogs I saw for behavior concerns had made associations with their environment, or owners, or certain stimulus that then impacted their behavior choices or patterns. Often times with their owners completely unaware that such an association was made in their dog’s point of view. Frequently a starting step to change was assisting owners in practicing their own observations of both the environment, their dog’s behavior and their own behavior. Non judgmentally. A starting step was helping owners realize that from their dog’s perspective the behavior or behavior set being practiced was completely reasonable to the events occurring. That their dog wasn’t acting ‘out of the blue’ or for some completely unfathomable reason, or because their dog was stupid. Instead to find value and awe in their dog and the canine species. To be able to see just how intelligent their dog really is.