I often tell people whose dogs I am training that their dogs are smarter than they think and are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. I am well aware that most people vastly underestimate their dogs. I guess I am “most people” since Jana kindly keeps proving to me that she’s far brighter than I recognize. Wylie, too. In just the last couple of days they each gave us an example that had us shaking our heads and chiding ourselves for, yet again, underestimating them.
Jana first. When she’s done eating, she picks up her bowl and hands it to me. If I am not in the room with her, she comes to find me, carrying the bowl in her mouth. She’ll happily pick up Wylie’s bowl too, and the bowls of any guest-dog-diners as well. She has learned well the lesson that “she who picks up the bowls, gets the cookies.” Well, a few days ago, she and Wylie had finished eating and Deni and I were in another room. Deni heard some banging and looked over to see what was going on. She called me over and said, “You’ve got to see this! Jana’s stacking the bowls!”
Sure enough, Jana was trying to put one bowl inside the other. Unfortunately, she had the bigger bowl on top so it wasn’t working too well, but she certainly had the right idea! Now, when she brings me the bowls, I ask her to get the “bigger” one first (remember that lesson?) and then I ask her to put the smaller one inside the bigger one. She does it precisely and neatly every time. With some practice, I am sure she’ll figure out how to stack them and then bring me both together.
Now Wylie. We have several soft wool balls that we put in the dryer with our laundry. They are supposed to prevent static cling. To dogs, they look like really great toys. Yesterday, as Deni was folding laundry, a wool ball fell to the floor. Wylie picked it up. Deni asked him to “bring the ball back.” He looked at her for a moment, then walked over to the toy basket. He dropped the new, very desirable wool ball into the toy basket and picked up a less desirable alternative — a small basketball that is losing air due to an unfortunate encounter with a Wylie-tooth. Wylie carried the basketball to Deni and offered it to her. He knew he had taken a ball and had to give Deni a ball; he did not offer any of the dozens of non-ball toys that are in the basket. He clearly understood that a ball was needed but he wasn’t quite ready to part with the new, nice ball so he offered a different one in exchange, figuring, I think, that since we humans don’t appreciate balls nearly as much as he does, Deni wouldn’t mind. Nice try, Wylie!