Friday, November 13, 2009

Trick and Treat

November 13, 2009

I clicked on the New York Times article, "Good Dog, Smart Dog" with great curiosity. I learned that:

"The matter of what exactly goes on in the mind of a dog is a tricky one, and until recently much of the research on canine intelligence has been met with large doses of skepticism. But over the last several years a growing body of evidence, culled from small scientific studies of dogs’ abilities to do things like detect cancer or seizures, solve complex problems (complex for a dog, anyway), and learn language suggests that they may know more than we thought they did."

That's it. Understanding Teddy and Willie is tricky. I should try harder. Perhaps they had great skills. Maybe they could become seizure alert dogs or follow in the footsteps of "Jet" who can identify his hypoglycemic owner's plunging blood sugar and will either stare at her intently or repeatedly drop a toy in her lap until she snaps out of her dissociative state and does something about it. For a moment I held hope, but I spoiled the moment with google (does this happen to you?). I decided I needed to find the original reference (and accompanying ranked list of dog breeds) to Stanley Coren's work on dog intelligence. My mistake.

According to Coren, author of "The Intelligence of Dogs", there are three types of dog intelligence:

  • Adaptive Intelligence (learning and problem-solving ability). This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.
  • Instinctive Intelligence. This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.
  • Working/Obedience Intelligence. This is breed dependent.

If you click on the link you will notice that it has 100 dog breeds broken into six categories, from "Brightest Dogs" to "Lowest Degree." Optimist that I am, I clicked from the top down. Penbroke corgi, Uma's category, came up 11th, which just goes to show that intelligence and pleasantness don't necessarily correlate. I finally found Rhodesian ridgeback at 62nd, but had to search to the very last category--number 90--to find shih-tzu. I haven't felt as disappointed since my softball coach put me eighth in the batting order even though I was the fastest player on the team (I was certain I would be a dangerous base runner, and thus deserved the number one or number two slot). I got no comfort when a dog expert tried to explain to me that shih-tzu's didn't need to be smart. They were bred to sit on the emperor's lap and eat from his hand. A nice life, but frankly, Walter and I had hoped for more than "lowest degree" for our precious.

This new discovery led us down an interesting path on Wednesday evening. We returned home around 8:30 that night and found someone had jiggered open the dog food cabinet.

Walter has lived in that house for thirty dog-filled years with sometimes as many as four dogs in residence at a time. For three long stretches, we owned Top Ten breeds (German shepherd, Labrador retriever, and rottweiler). Never, during any of those years, did a single dog manage to finagle its way into the food source.

We began our investigation, photographing everything that looked relevant:

We circled the first object. It looked dragged, but except for the tiny bit of scrap cardboard lying nearby, it revealed no visual evidence of tampering. The fact that it wasn't ripped to shreds gave weight to the non-dog theory of the perpetrator. We moved through the house, considering our prime suspects and accumulated the following line up (based on the facts of the case). None of them would admit to anything (click on each mugshot to personally assess the look of guilt on the faces).

That was before we returned to the first (actually only) piece of evidence. Walter picked it up to return it to its storage place and found that the suspects had cleverly covered their trail. From five of six sides, it looked like an ordinary, off-the-shelf, unopened box of Milk-Bone biscuits. The sixth side was a different story altogether.

Noticing the paucity of treats in the box, we quickly realized we had either been cheated by the manufacturer (cue dramatic music) OR our intruder was also a thief! We tried to interrogate the eyewitnesses, but they somehow seemed to know that "loose lips, sink ships."

Thousands of years of breeding peaked at that moment. How could anyone accuse a shih-tzu--the mainstay of the Chinese Empire and a dog destined for greatness as the comforter of rulers and royalty--how could anyone accuse her of petty thievery?!!?!

We never learned who entered our house and purloined our treats. For some reason neither dog ate their breakfast on Thursday morning. They were probably just exhausted from standing guard all night in case the thief returned.


  1. This is really too funny. I wonder where the Great Dane falls in the intelligence catagory?.. I'm not very hopeful. Might go look it up, might not,why ruin the possibility with actuality. Atleast it was a Milkbone attack. Ben decided to shred and entire new package of paper bags all over the kitchen last week.. PAPER BAGS? 100 of them. What was so tasty about that??

    Put up those decorations, Vickie...they are a part of Erin sharing in the holiday with you. My guess is she liked decorating ALOT.. and if she's still making the plans and the lists somewhere, at the top of that list are the words - Lets Do It.

    Personally, I'de love to see a picture of her soccer turkey placemat. :-)

  2. Only 1 comment? On such a brilliant post? Oh, that's just wrong. Truly, the sheer weight of the evidence, the time spent on the investigation.. all of that surely deserved at least 100 comments filled with applause and lauding the brilliance of the investigators.
    I came here some time ago (years..); I think it was from Sarah Smith's spot but am not sure. I still stop in.. mainly because of Erin, but also, quite honestly, because of posts like this one. Erin would be so proud of you...