My dog Teddy never thought of me as Stephen Hawking of dogs. While I’ve been told by other dog lovers that dogs are about as intelligent as a two-year-old, Teddy seemed a little less promising. He didn’t learn a lot of tricks, although I have to admit that I wasn’t very consistent with my training. He doesn’t sit on orders, turn around or shake hands. He only comes in when someone calls, when he’s doing nothing better, including napping – especially napping.
I adopted Teddy from the city animal shelter about four years ago. I wanted a companion to my beagle / basset mix, Mignon, who seemed to be missing her recently deceased buddy Cowboy. As is often the case in big city shelters, most of the dogs available were pit bulls and pit bull mixes, which are banned by my unenlightened neighborhood association.
Teddy appeared to be a pure Beagle at first, and that was on his admission form. But when we got him out of his little cage at the shelter, I could see that it was a different breed, most likely Jack Russell. I’ve always been a fan of Beagles, which in my experience are affectionate and not too active for me. However, the Jack Russell element added another facet to Teddy’s behavior. He can jump higher than any beagle ever thought.
In most of the anecdotal canine intelligence data I’ve read – which is admittedly very little – beagles tend to be at the bottom of the matrix. With a little DNA from Jack Russell, I expected a little more from Teddy. I thought he might be more eager to learn, more interested in challenging tasks. I was wrong. Most of the time he just likes to jump.
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The only trick Teddy learned is, “Get your toys.” When I’m gone for a few hours, I leave Teddy in the basement. Unfortunately, he’s a chewer of shoes, pillows, and almost anything else he can get in his mouth, so I’ll have to limit him to areas where he can do the least amount of damage. The basement is warm in winter and cool in summer, and light pours in from the windows on the ground floor. There are plenty of dog beds and carpets.
When I call Teddy into the basement, I have to lure him with a Kong filled with peanut butter and chopped milk bones. Teddy will happily spend hours with his Kong without damaging the boxes and furniture stored in the basement.
When he hears my car in the driveway, Teddy rushes to the cellar door and barks encouragingly that I will let him into the kitchen. However, he has learned that he must bring his Kong with him. When I command, “Teddy, get your toys,” he’ll run down the stairs, barking shrilly all the way as if saying, “I’ll do this, but I don’t have to like it!” Kong in his mouth he jumps up the stairs. I have to say this for Teddy: he doesn’t hold a grudge.
Recently, however, Teddy did something that completely surprised me. Although he did not make or modify any tools, he demonstrated some problem-solving skills. (Maybe Beagles will go up a notch if I notify those who are putting together canine IQ tests.)
I sat on the sofa and read. There was a deep basket nearby that I had thrown dog toys with a pile of magazines on top. I saw Teddy rummaging around in the basket, so I watched closely, ready to keep him from tearing up bits of magazine pages all over the living room floor.
He carefully picked up a magazine and went to the coffee table. I assumed he would lie down and start chewing on it, but instead he dropped it on the floor and then went back to the basket for another magazine. He took each magazine and piled them on top of the last until he got to the toys. Once he got to the toy level, he settled on a toy and spent the afternoon in the sun chewing on a floppy bear.
I was amazed at what Teddy didn’t do: knock the basket over and spread the magazines around the room until he got to the toys; chew on the magazines that were “low hanging fruit” at the time; Lift his leg and pee on everything. Instead, he seemed to be goal-oriented and persistent until he reached the toys. I was proud of my boy.
Teddy hasn’t surprised me with additional signs of superior intelligence lately. But maybe he will, all in his own time. In the meantime he has a lot to jump.