My dog Teddy never struck me as the Stephen Hawking of dogs. While I’ve been told by other dog-lovers that dogs are about as intelligent as a two-year-old child, Teddy seemed a bit less promising. He hasn’t learned many tricks, although I have to admit I have not been very consistent with my training. He does not sit on command, roll over or “shake hands.” He comes when called only if he isn’t doing anything better, including napping—especially napping.
I adopted Teddy from the city animal shelter about four years ago. I wanted a companion for my Beagle/Basset mix, Mignon, who seemed to be missing her recently deceased pal, Cowboy. As is often the case in big-city shelters, the majority of the available dogs were Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes, who are prohibited by my unenlightened neighborhood association.
Teddy appeared at first glance to be pure Beagle, and that’s what was written on his intake form. But when we took him out of his small cage at the shelter, I could see there was another breed involved, most likely Jack Russell. I have always been a fan of Beagles, who, in my experience, are affectionate and not too active for me. The Jack Russell element, however, added another facet to Teddy’s behavior. He’s able to jump higher than any Beagle has ever even contemplated jumping.
In most of the anecdotal dog intelligence data I’ve read—which, admittedly, is very little—Beagles tend to be toward the bottom of the matrix. With the addition of some Jack Russell DNA, I expected a bit more of Teddy. I thought he might be more eager to learn, more eager for challenging tasks. I was wrong. Mostly, he just likes to jump.
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The one trick Teddy has learned is “go get your toy.” When I’m going to be gone for a few hours, I leave Teddy in the basement. Unfortunately, he is a chewer of shoes, pillows and almost anything else he can get into his mouth, so I have to confine him in areas where he can do the least damage. The basement is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, with light streaming in from the ground-level windows. There are dog beds and rugs aplenty.
When I call Teddy to the basement, I have to entice him with a Kong filled with peanut butter and chopped Milk Bones. Teddy will happily spend hours with his Kong without damaging any of the boxes and furniture stored in the basement.
When he hears my car in the driveway, Teddy rushes to the basement door, barking encouragingly for me to let him into the kitchen. He has learned, however, that he must bring his Kong with him. When I command, “Teddy, go get your toy,” he runs down the stairs, barking shrilly all the way, as if saying: “I’m going to do this, but I don’t have to like it!” Kong in mouth, he bounds back up the stairs. I have to say this for Teddy: He doesn’t hold a grudge.
Recently, though, Teddy did something that thoroughly surprised me. Although he did not make or modify a tool, he showed some problem-solving skills. (Maybe if I notify those who compile dog IQ tests, Beagles will move up a notch.)
I was sitting on the sofa reading. Nearby was a deep basket where I had tossed dog toys, topped by a stack magazines. I saw Teddy rooting around in the basket, so I watched carefully, ready to stop him from shredding bits of magazine pages all over the living room floor.
He carefully picked up a magazine and walked to the coffee table. I assumed he was going to plop 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 picked up each magazine and stacked it on top of the last until he got to the toys. Once he reached the toy level, he chose a toy, then spent the afternoon lying in the sun, chewing on a floppy bear.
I was amazed at what Teddy did not do: knock the basket over and scatter the magazines throughout the room until he got to the toys; chew on the magazines, which were “low-hanging fruit” at that point; lift his leg and pee on everything. Instead, he seemed to be goal-oriented and persevered until he reached the toys. I was proud of my boy.
Teddy has not surprised me with any additional signs of superior intelligence lately. But maybe he will, all in his own time. In the meantime, he has a lot of jumping to do.