Sunday, October 14, 2012

A funny thing happened last night.

I just finished reading a science article, "What Your Dog Is Thinking" with the intriguing subtitle, " Dogs can count, use touchscreen computers and understand hundreds of words. Soon we might find out what they really think of us"  and it reminded me of a real life experience with our Rottweilers. Every night before bedtime I go to the jar in the kitchen containing small biscuits that we use for treats and count out six to be divided among the three dogs. One of our Rotts, Axl, has gotten into the habit of standing next to me watching me count the biscuits so when I am done I give him an extra one and say, "Thank you for helping me". Along the way I have also given Axl any of the small broken pieces that I pull out of the jar as I count the treats and I would say, "Broken one" and he would gobble it down. Last night I came across a larger piece of a broken biscuit that wasn't a whole one but it was bigger than the usual small pieces so I tried to pass it off as his treat for helping me. He took the broken biscuit but instead of walking away toward the bedroom he just stood there looking at me and the look on his face said, 'So where's my complete biscuit?'.

This was one of those moments when you realize you've just exchanged a real dialog with your best friend and not a single word was spoken.

Axl is a very quiet and loveable sweetheart but he has the most expressionable eyes of any of the Rottweilers we have owned. I can almost tell what he is thinking by just looking at him. I don't know how many spoken words he and the other Rottweilers comprehend but I know they all listen to every conversation we humans have in our house and they react to many of the words they hear. You probably have had the same experience when your conversations include words like dinner, car, go, ride, store, out, and the unlimited number of food names we all use. They probably don't understand complete sentences so it makes for a humorous moment when you suddenly get a reaction that you didn't expect after saying something that inadvertently contained a 'hot word'. 

I have a friend in California who has owned many Rottweilers over the years and she told me one of her dogs knew the names of every toy the dog owned and would go a fetch it on command. And then there was another scientific test I read about on this subject that included telling the dog to fetch a toy by name that the dog did not own just to see what the dog would do.

One day, years ago, when I had my first Rottweiler Mo, she would go out and pick up the newspaper in our driveway and carry it into the house. I was privileged to observe her deductive reasoning skills when I saw her do this job one day. When Mo went down the driveway there were two newspapers a few feet apart and as soon as she saw this she paused to figure out what to do. Mo picked up one newspaper and dropped it on top of the other and attempted to pick them both up at the same time. She tried this several times with no success so she grabbed one paper and carried up to the front porch and handed it to me and then ran down the driveway to get the other. 

Mo was trained by my wife at a time when I went to work every day and she proved to be a very smart dog. The one thing that she seemed to enjoy most was to be asked if she wanted to 'Go to work' and her ears would perk up and she would listen to what you wanted her to do. When we moved out to the rural part of the county and had our much bigger property the newspaper job became more involved. Sometimes Mo would discover the newspaper hadn't been thrown in the driveway and she would have to search for it. And she did this job with the diligence of the mailman who goes out in rain or snow.

As far as that scientific story I first mentioned, here is a sample paragraph to wet your curiosity. Don't know how many of you have iPods or iPhones, as we do not, but I do know that our baby Ruff has his own email address. It is and he use to get a lot of fan mail.
Most impressive of all is dogs’ ability to learn about humans. They respond to our gestures, they attend to our body language, and they follow our gaze to figure out what we’re looking at. They even are susceptible to repeating human yawns, according to a study published in the journal Biology Letters. As the longest-domesticated species, dogs have evolved alongside humans, selected over thousands of years for traits that make them especially sensitive to our cues. Another study from the journal Science reported that puppies only a few weeks old could interpret human signals, while full-grown wolves raised by humans could not. Dogs read people better than do chimpanzees, humans’ closest primate relative, according to research published this year. In fact, the most accurate comparison is to a human child: dogs have the social-cognition capacities of a 2-year-old. (The dogs in one recent study can claim another similarity to iPhone-loving toddlers: their ability to understand abstract concepts was probed by having them use touchscreen computers.)

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