While wandering around Three Castle Head in Ireland this summer, we were venturing among the foggy cliffs when we saw a sudden movement in the rocks.
A border collie had crouched down, with a stick in front of her, and was eagerly awaiting our presence and potential to play fetch with her.
We weren’t able to get much closer, because a young family appeared shortly thereafter, and the kids were engaged in playing with her, to her intense delight. One of the many enjoyable things from our European summer was how often we ran into delightful free-range dogs like this collie.
We (sans dogs) recently attended a three-year-old’s birthday party, which was held at a large, beautiful farm in the nearby countryside.
The young farmer brought out some baby goats and lambs for all of the kids to pet, which was a huge hit with the little ones. It’s fun to be reminded that most tiny children instinctively love animals — and that they also have no instincts on how to be gentle. Watching those toddlers maul those baby goats made me grateful that (1) the goats were very easygoing, and (2) the goats do not have sharp teeth. While I loved fraternizing with the babies and the baby livestock, my attention was naturally drawn to the dogs. Of course.
First, I got to meet the actual sheepdog, this handsome 3-year-old border collie. He was soft and sweet, but very agitated by all of the toddlers, so he had to stay on leash. I mistakenly judged him for an English shepherd first, because I think the ticking and brown points on his coat threw me off.
Then, in the barn, there was a pair of precious, adolescent Great Pyrenees. Here’s my friend greeting them:
They were so gentle and friendly. These big pups were also great with all of the little kids who wanted to come stroke their noses. Having two high-strung dogs always makes me marvel at these dogs who have this natural calmness, who seem unperturbed by everything, just take it all in stride.
And then, there was THIS fellow! Guys. Totally mystified by his breed. He is all white, and I guess he could be a Great Pyrenees, but have you ever seen one with hair that grew like that? I haven’t. But he was so cute and muppet-y.
It’s fun to see dogs in their working environments and to be reminded that dogs fulfill so many purposes, even now, in 2014. It’s easy to forget when you’re raising two dogs in the city.
I wondered what our dogs would do if they met the farm animals. Some of you live on farms, I think, but have your dogs ever encountered livestock? How did it go?
By now, I think the majority of us have heard about Chaser, the border collie with the BIG vocabulary. Even people who aren’t that into dogs have probably seen Chaser on TV, in a documentary, or read about her feats in the media. If you haven’t, here’s the summary: Chaser knows 1,022 words. Yes, that many.
Her human, Dr. John W. Pilley, a psychology professor at Wofford College, taught her these words (mostly proper nouns) in an effort to prove that dogs have an intelligence far greater than we generally expect. Pilley was also motivated by reports about Rico the border collie, who reportedly knew 200 words, and he thought, “I could teach Chaser to do that.”
And, boy, did he ever!
Chaser’s repertoire was confirmed with a battery of tests, which resulted in a paper, which then took the animal cognition world — and the rest of the world — by storm.
I was enamored with Chaser — and Dr. Pilley — when I first saw them in the NOVA documentary with Neil deGrasse Tyson. (I also feel this perhaps irrational fondness for Dr. Pilley, because his demeanor and mannerisms remind me so much of my grandfather, who, coincidentally, graduated from Wofford College, which is a TINY, almost unheard-of school in South Carolina. They both have a similar manner of speaking and moving, and they both seem to be animal whisperers. Random connection, but I had to share!)
I was delighted to win this book in Maggie’s giveaway on Oh My Dog! and certainly enjoyed reading it. I knew a little about how hard Pilley worked with Chaser, and it was illuminating to read about the hours and hours of training and work he did with Chaser — and still does. She is obviously a smart dog, but she sounds like she has a really lovely personality as well.
I also enjoyed reading about Pilley’s history with dogs, particularly his account of his former dog Yasha, a German shepherd/collie mix, who sounded like a real gem of a dog. Yasha was given free reign on the Wofford campus, and Pilley often used him in his classes, asking students to teach Yasha a command that he didn’t already know. (I also cried over my lunch when Yasha died.)
In short, it’s a sweet book about a devoted man’s relationship with his very bright dog — and a poignant reminder to never take our dog’s intelligence for granted. Even if we don’t have a dog with a Chaser-level intensity or working memory, we have a very bright, sentient being who watches us much more closely than we think.
Disclaimer: I won this book in an Oh My Dog! giveaway; I was not compensated for this review nor asked to write it. I just like to write about the dog books I read!
From time to time, I get asked to review dog books, and I confess that I’m usually a bit skeptical. I have (unreasonably) high standards when it comes to books, and I am really an unbearable snob about them. So, I’m always a bit wary about these requests.
But when I was asked to review the new photography book Find Momo, I gave the rep an immediate YES. I was prepared for a cute photography book involving a dog, but I wasn’t prepared for how well done this book was. I was very charmed by it. The photos are beautifully reproduced, and the book has great, clean graphic design. In short, I’m not embarrassed to have it sitting on my coffee table.
Background: Momo is a border collie who garnered Internet fame on Instagram through his owner Andrew Knapp, a traveling photographer. Momo travels around with Knapp, who takes beautiful shots of Momo cleverly disguised in landscapes, city streets, store windows, and so on. It’s like Where’s Waldo? but with an adorable dog (with a really stellar sit/stay, I might add) instead of a weird bespectacled dude.
Our girls don’t quite have Momo’s staying abilities, but they were happy to pose with the book nonetheless. I think it will be a while before they could give Momo a run for his money:
(Eden, truthfully, is more interested in finding her ball than in finding Momo.)
Find Momo comes out in March, and you can pre-order it on Amazon and on other booksellers’ sites. I think it would make a great present for any dog lover (especially those with a penchant for border collies), and would even be an ideal gift for kids who love dogs — or anyone who loves “I Spy” or such games with photos. Paws up for Momo! I’m looking forward to continue to follow his journeys online.
Disclosure: We were provided with a review copy of this book in exchange for our honest review.
Unrelated update: Reflecting on the girls’ relationship
Thanks to you all for your wise words and advice regarding my questions about squabbling in a multi-dog household. Hearing from you and reading your anecdotes and experiences was so helpful. Overall, I feel better about the situation, and yesterday and this morning have been really great between the girls. They initiated play with each other in polite and proper ways; they spent time sleeping near each other in the afternoon; and there were no squabbles to speak of.
Lessons learned: Two female dogs are not the most ideal pairing, but dog relationships have more to do with personality than with gender. (I’ve seen two male dogs fight to kill each other; I know of many people with two females who have been perfect together, etc. Every dog is different.) Pyrrha is sensitive and Eden is a feisty puppy, so I think they’re still figuring things out together. After all, yesterday marked just one month with Edie in the house, which is comparatively not a long time. It took Pyrrha some months to truly warm up to some of our fosters (particularly Rainer, who we had for four months). And I think Edie is still learning the ropes of the household. But I have a lot more hope for their relationship.
Going forward: Committing to getting them more exercise, because they get along better when they’ve been physically and mentally engaged; giving them time apart from each other when warranted (for example, Pyrrha will often join me in my studio while I’m working on calligraphy, and Edie has to stay downstairs and play with Guion or go outside); and encouraging good communication between them.
As always, we’re a work in progress over here, but I thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise with me! Means a lot.
“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an emptiness we don’t even know we have.”
— Thom Jones
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It’s true, isn’t it?
Have had a totally crazy week, and I have been feeling guilty, because Pyrrha has gotten fewer walks and less attention than normal. The guilt! It is suffocating. Maybe next week will be a little better?
Husband-and-wife team Ali Canova and Joe Canova founded Mountain Freaks Agility in New Jersey and wrote this clear, helpful introduction to agility training. The book is colorful and easily readable and filled with instructive photographs and step-by-step training techniques.
I don’t know if we’ll even have a dog who will be interested in or capable competing in agility, but I’m certainly fascinated by it and I have always been interested in agility as a canine sport and discipline.
The Canovas are positive reinforcement trainers and they begin the book with encouraging you to establish a strong working relationship and basic obedience training with your dog before beginning any kind of agility work. They stress that your relationship with your dog, knowing him or her well, and establishing trust is critical before agility can begin.
The book moves from there into specific chapters on how to train for each hurdle or challenge on an agility course. How do you set up jumps? How do you desensitize your dog to the slamming board of the see-saw? How on earth do you train weave poles? The Canovas have these answers and much more.Agility Training for You and Your Dogalso moves into advanced techniques in the latter chapters, including course plans and movement strategies for more experienced handlers and dogs.
If we do bring home a dog who seems like he or she would enjoy this sport, I think I’ll definitely be returning to this book for future guidance.
Many people like to cite Stanley Coren’s now notorious list of “the most intelligent dog breeds.” People who have breeds in the top 10 like to remind other people of such and tease those who have dogs who fall anywhere below Coren’s top 10.
*Cited in his book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Links are to my “Breed Love” posts.
I think the problem with this list is the title. As many before me have pointed out, and as Coren’s own study acknowledges in the fine print, this oft-cited list measures canine intelligence by how quickly or effectively dogs obey humans. His study is a nice measure of obedience, but that’s primarily what it is. A more accurate title might have been “the most obedient dog breeds.”
Hounds rank very low according to this list, but that’s because Coren’s study cannot measure the independent-thinking and creativity that is employed by most hounds, especially scent hounds.
I’ve noticed this with hounds, even in my short tenure as a volunteer at the SPCA. Our SPCA has a ton of scent hounds, because we live in a part of the countryside that is popular with hunters who employ large packs of hounds and then don’t keep track of them if one goes missing. That said, I spend a lot of time at the SPCA walking hounds. These hounds are notably unresponsive to humans. They often seem to look right past you at something else (or, more accurately, at some other, more interesting smell). But this doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent; it just means they’re harder to train. These hounds are rather adept problem solvers. They figure out what they want then they plot how to get it, with or without any human aid.
Sight hounds, in my limited experience, are also very intelligent but prefer to follow their own direction. (The Afghan hound is famously ranked last on Coren’s list, in terms of what he calls intelligence.) When you ask a sight hound to do something, I imagine their internal response to be something like Bartleby the Scrivener: “I would prefer not to.” They are independent and self-directed and seem to weigh the pros and cons of following your commands.
Selfishly, I’ve always really loved dogs from the herding group, because these are some of the most human-responsive dogs of all (many in the herding group are in Coren’s top 30 “most intelligent” breeds). My favorite breeds–Australian shepherds, German shepherds, and border collies, to name a few–are incredibly attuned to their people. These high-energy dogs were made to watch human faces, study human body language, and follow human directives in their line of intense work. I’ll probably always prefer these dogs, mainly because they are so easy to train, but I think this just means that I’m lazy/afraid of how frustrated I’d get with a less responsive dog.
But at the end of the day, this list doesn’t matter. Because we know the truth: We all have the smartest dog in the whole world.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Are you watching the conclusion of the Westminster Kennel Club show tonight? I’m going to watch it with my husband and his hilarious poetry colleagues from the university, who have an annual tradition of watching Westminster at a local sports bar. I am so excited. Could there be a more ironic combination of things? Poets + wings + cheap beer + dog show = I think not. Who’s your bet for the big win?
Dog show fun aside, here’s a few interesting links from around the Web:
5 Reasons to Adopt a Dog. These are the standard, excellent reasons, or at least, a great place to start in listing them. I like reminding myself of these reasons. I’m always surprised at how many people look sad or disappointed when I say I want to adopt an adult dog. “Don’t you want a puppy?” they plead. Next time, I’ll gently remind them of some of the elements on this list. (The Bark Blog)
NYC Dog Art Tour. A collection of canine artwork from around New York City. (Loving the Dog Art Today site redesign, too! So sleek!) (Dog Art Today)
Sharing the Love. Sweet-faced border collies and a dachshund with their Valentine’s message. (Raising Addie)
A lot of interesting, dog-centric links from around the Web this past week:
Getting the Most from Dog Training Classes. These are really helpful and insightful pointers about how to get more bang for your buck in a training class. I wouldn’t have thought of many of these things, and I’m glad I read this before signing up for a training class. (Oh Behave!)
Surprise! These (pretty adorable) photos of a border collie pup are proof positive that breeds have strong, inborn instincts. (Alta-Pete Farm Tails)
Wrapping Up the 2011 Budgeting Project–Onward to 2012! If you ever wanted a seriously comprehensive glimpse of pet finances, look no further than M.C. and her Bows. This is a really helpful year overview and it’s inspired me to keep track of my own purchases for my future dog. (The House of Two Bows)
Finding a Purpose for a Pup. A success story of a sheep-killing German shepherd turned drug-busting police dog. Just proof that every dog has his proper place, if only we’ll give them a chance to find it. (The Bark Blog)