Beware the Smart Dogs!
Posted on July 03, 2012 by WayCoolDogs
He’s not mean, he’s just sneaky, calculating, and opportunistic; but, as with most evil-genius dogs, Ein is also inherently lovable. (Though there’s no telling what he could do if he had opposable thumbs. I, and my belongings, shudder at the thought.)
When I first got Ein, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was like most people who hear that a dog breed is “smart.” Oh, how wonderful! I can teach him tricks! And he’ll get them immediately! And he’ll practically housebreak himself and he’ll just be the best dog ever! In fact, he’ll be PERFECT!
Perfect dogs: They. Do. Not. Exist
To help emphasize this fact, here are a few realities I’ve learned about smart dogs (and had reinforced by Dr. Corgenstein over here).
1. A smart dog does not equal a quiet or calm dog
Think about the super smart people you know. Are they more easily bored by a lack of intellectual stimulation than the average Joe?
Ein is perfectly content to keep me company and watch what I’m doing, but I’m not always around, and I don’t always let him follow me absolutely everywhere . If he’s in napping mode, this is okay. If he’s bored, this can lead to disaster, calls from the neighbors, and lots of cursing. Smarter=better able to figure out ways around “dog-proofing.”
2. A smart dog does not equal an easily trainable dog
As the definition of a “trained” dog includes not only knowing how to perform a specified task, but also the actual performing of said task (on command) with reliability, smart dogs can be more of a training challenge. Just because your smart dog knows HOW to do something and he knows WHAT you are asking him to do does not mean he’s actually going to do it.
Sometimes, when the mood strikes him, Ein will obey every command, flawlessly. Other times, I can see the wheels turning in his head as he asks himself, “Why should I do this? What will I get out of this?” If he calculates that his reward is insufficient, Ein does nothing. I have never seen a nice, affable mastiff do such a thing.
3. A smart dog does not equal a “good dog”
Again, just because a dog knows HOW to behave, doesn’t mean he will. Corgis, especially, are notorious for trying to figure out how to use what they’ve learned to benefit themselves. Again, they’re opportunistic (which is different from selfish).
Every once in a while, I’m forced to put Ein on a diet. (Completely my own fault, I know.) Once the diet begins, Ein “forgets” almost every single piece of training he’s ever learned . . . until I produce my training/treat bag. Ein also has selective hearing. He can hear the mailman 30 feet down the front walk, but somehow goes deaf when I call him to put his monthly topical meds on him. I’m pretty sure he’s actually too smart.
4. Smart dogs do not equal emotionally devoid dogs
Dogs have the emotional capacity to have a bad day, or to lose their patience. (Please don’t get me started on the ludicrous idea of a “good dog” being one that puts up with infinite abuse from a toddler without any reaction.) And if ignorance is bliss, then smart dogs won’t always have a good day. They’re highly sensitive to their surroundings and more likely to react to things than a more complacent dog.
For a while, Ein had a “brother” who was a big, sweet, biddable lab. Fezzik didn’t seem to be bothered by things as much as Ein. I thought maybe he was just more laid back (which he was), but he also didn’t think as much. While Fezzik hated topical medication time just as much as Ein, he never figured out what I might be calling him over for until it was too late. Ein’s intelligence and own emotional sensitivity allowed him to note a very subtle difference in my tone of voice—one that I can’t even hear. He was also smart enough to not “warn” Fezzik, and make his escape while I was dosing the lab.
5. Smart dogs do not equal perfect dogs
Let’s say you have a good, sweet, smart dog who is just dying to please you (and if you do, I’d appreciate a DNA sample so that I might clone him or her). That dog will still never be “perfect.” No matter how much you train a dog or how well-behaved your dog “always” is, he is STILL A DOG, and dogs have very strong instincts.
One instinct that all dogs have (that humans don’t and therefore have a difficult time understanding) is a prey drive. While the strength of the prey drive can vary from dog to dog, ALL DOGS HAVE IT. It’s what makes them like to chase quick movements and pounce on squeaky toys. It’s what causes the bugs and geckos that get into my house to be marked for death (Ein is quite the hunter).
The closest thing I can think of to a human prey drive reaction is when you walk past a Godiva chocolate store and you immediately think “ohmygodthatlooksgoodIwantit.” Can you imagine trying to train yourself to not have that initial, almost reflexive, reaction? That’s what trying to get rid of a dog’s prey drive is like.
Why would anyone want to get rid of that? Because no dog behaves well when in the full thrall of his prey drive. Ein is a perfect little leash walker . . . until a bunny darts past. My well-mannered fur-ball then turns into 30 pounds of hell hound, complete with frenzied, high-pitched barking, desperate attempts to hurl himself out of his collar, and fruitless endeavors to bite the bunny from at least 20 feet away.
There are several things you can do to affect a dog’s prey drive, but you CANNOT eliminate it. Ever. This means that no matter how wonderfully smart, intuitive, and well-behaved your smart dog is, you can never 100% rely on him to not bolt after a cat . . . and drag you into the bushes with him.
I’m not saying all smart dogs adhere to every single point on this list; just because Ein is a hell spawn doesn’t mean your dog is or will be. And just because your dog doesn’t act like Ein doesn’t mean she’s not a smart dog. However, it’s better be prepared than to have to learn the hard way about your evil genius dog. I’ve lost a lot of food and material possessions that way.
About the Author
Ashan Dezoysa is a stereotypical California animal & nature loving guy. On the weekends you’ll find him trying to keep up with his own dog along the streets of Downey, or at the beach on a leisurely kayaking adventure. If you have a pup of your own, find lots of things to keep your dog safe, secure, and cozy at his website.
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