Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Smart DDog

I have a dog. He's a mutt, adopted from the local SPCA when he was seven months old. The SPCA people told us that Darling Dog is a mix of three wonderful breeds. And you can clearly see the parts that each breed contributed to his DNA.

DDog has the beautiful blue merle markings of the Australian Shepherd:

Then the noble head and distinctive tail of the Beagle:

And the general size and shape of the Basset Hound.

Put them all together, and you get this:

When he's not lounging around looking deceased, DDog basically resembles an oversize wiener dog. There's a house in our neighborhood that is home to five dachshunds, and when DDog walks by, they all run to line up at the fence and bark as if they were hailing their king. I don't take him by there very often, because it gives him a big head, and if there's any part of him that needs to be bigger, it's not his head, it's his tiny little Basset legs.

Shown here approximately actual size.
DDog's personality is also an amalgam of his constituent breeds. He's stubborn as all get-out, like a Basset Hound, fiercely protective like an Aussie, and likes to pretend he's a WWI flying ace.

From his Beagle lineage, of course.
What we don't know for sure about DDog is whether he's smart. He's got a great personality, and of course we all love him very much, so we tend to overlook some of the truly dumb things he does. For example, his diet consists of dry kibble and paper products. He's a relentless stealer of napkins off the table, which he then tears to shreds and ingests. His favorite toys are cardboard toilet-paper tubes, which he also tears to shreds and ingests. And any kind of food wrapper...shreds, ingests, yeah. Not the brightest move.

On the other hand, when DDog does his business outside, his poops are dry and odorless and biodegrade almost instantly. They are substantially composed of paper, after all.

Neatly wrapped for convenience.
Pretty smart, if you ask me.

Sometimes DDog will do something I consider really, really intelligent. Like the time he came outside with me to take out the garbage and accidentally got left on the wrong side of the fence. He could have stood at the gate and barked his fool head off (and he gets his bark from his Basset side, so it's a tremendous loud roop). But instead he went around to the front of the house and barked there. Because he knows we let visitors in through the front door and not the back gate. Smart.

But then he'll go and do something like try to get into the car by crawling underneath the open car door instead of going through the opening. So who knows.

Maybe this should be an option.
 Bottom line: DDog could be smarter than a fifth grader, or dumber than a high school freshman. What happens to kids between those years, anyway? Do they sell the mineral rights to their brains to a drilling company or something? They all seem to catch a raging case of Teh Dumb. But I digress.

Precocious Daughter was especially curious about DDog's brain power, so she found a doggie intelligence test online. We gathered a few props, some dog treats, and a stopwatch, then put him through his paces. There were six parts to the test, with a range of possible scores depending on how well he performed the required behavior in each part. Here's how he did.

Test #1 measured what I guess would be called object permanence in a human baby test. PDaughter showed the dog a treat, then put it under an overturned container (we used an empty Ben and Jerry's ice cream pint - Volunteer-amisu, yum) and told him to get it. Ah, the old "Which way did he go, George?" trick.

DDog did pretty well. It took him about 30 seconds to approach the container, sniff out the treat, and find a way to get at it. What impressed me was that instead of knocking the container over with a paw or his snout, he picked it up with his teeth and carefully set it aside.

As opposed to, say, this.
(From the Active Rain It's Raining Dogs! Dog Lovers Group)
 Test #2 involved throwing a towel over the dog's head and timing how long it took him to pull it off (or fall asleep standing up in the dark, as the case may be). We'd done this to DDog in the past, so were pretty confident. Sure enough, within four seconds he'd gotten free of it. I'm pretty sure he wants nothing to do with towels because he associates them with baths, but hey, that's a sign of intelligence too, right?

This is not a normal dog. Or a normal photographer.
The next test was a bit strange, I thought. The goal was to see if your dog would come to you, not based on a verbal or nonverbal command, but only in reaction to a smile. So PDaughter sat down several feet from where DDog was relaxing, waited until he looked at her, then broke out a smile. Um, a really big, slightly crazed smile. Frankly, it was a bit scary.
I would not have deducted points if the dog
had run whimpering under the bed.
But DDog, much to my surprise, recognized her Joker-like grin for a welcoming gesture and went to her. I don't know if it counts as intelligence to willingly approach someone who smiles at you like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, but he took the points.

The fourth test was much like the first, only instead of placing food under a container, it was placed under a small towel. Once again showing that I'm not necessarily any smarter than a dog myself, I figured it wouldn't make any difference what was placed over the treat. But much to our amusement, DDog approached the towel, nudged it with his nose and, after failing to dislodge it, simply began to crunch up his dog biscuit through the towel. I stopped the test (so as not to wind up with a holey dishcloth), shook out the now-pulverized treat, and declared that DDog would get full marks even though he hadn't actually performed the task as stated. What can I say? The dog was thinking outside the box.

Not an easy thing for a dog to do.
Test #5 required similarly creative scoring. Using cardboard and stacks of books, we constructed a low table - too low to get DDog's head under, just his paw. We put a treat under the table and encouraged him to get it. The scores were based on whether the dog successfully pawed the treat out into the open or tried and failed to get it out with his muzzle. There was no scoring option for demolishing the table with your bony head, which is what DDog did both times we attempted to administer the test.

We're enrolling him in taekwon do classes next week.
While he happily picked his biscuit out of the ruins, we decided to give him the median score.

Final test: Name recognition. PDaughter sat across the room from DDog and in her best come-here-puppy voice called out, "Refrigerator." The object, of course, was to determine whether the dog reacted to his name (more intelligent) or simply to tone of voice (more like a husband). DDog looked as if he was going to pass this one with flying colors. Then the Siamese kitten came up behind him and smacked him in the back. And he scurried over to PDaughter, presumably for protection.

What? What did I do?
So we tried it again. This time, just as we were about the declare the test a success, the Siamese kitten let out a noise that I can only assume translated to "Hey, you stupid dog, get over there, she's calling you." Because DDog got up and requested sanctuary across the room. Finally, with the cat safely locked in the bedroom (not safe for the bedroom carpet, but all in the name of science, right?), DDog demonstrated that in the absence of feline threats, he could tell the difference between his name and a random word spoken like his name. Woo-hoo!

So the final tally came down to this: DDog possesses high-average intelligence, as well as humans who are really lenient scorekeepers. As with a human IQ test, like the ones PDaughter has taken, it's hard to know just what to do with these results. There's so much more to intelligence than simply a number. Especially with a test subject who routinely eats yogurt cartons and rolls in filth.

The dog. I'm talking about the dog. *looks over at PDaughter to make sure she's not rolling in anything* Yes, definitely the dog.


  1. This is such a cute-kind-of-crazy article. I was greatly entertained and it was fun to read. Your Darling Dog is such a gift, and I think the combination of the three breeds resulted in an interesting dog that will definitely keep you company for long. Speaking of truly intelligent dogs, I found an article that discusses a dog IQ test and I would like to share it here:

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