My friend, Frank Singer, is a serious pilot. For years, he’s flown doctors into villages in Mexico where medical assistance was needed. The other day, he told me about his new project — flying rescue dogs to no-kill shelters; in this case, in Phoenix. Last week, Frank had sixty canine passengers on his flight.
One of the themes of the “My Doggie Says…” show has been “the intelligence of dogs.” One guest, for example, was Stanley Coren, author of “The Intelligence of Dogs.” But I’ve always found these conversations a little unsettling. Here’s the interview with Stanley.
The scientists keep saying, “Dogs really aren’t very smart.” I wonder, though, if they are applying the right measures. Obviously, dogs can’t take an IQ test — which deals with language. But they sure do some clever things. I have a difficult time believing that Callie Golden Retriever has the same intelligence level (whatever that means) as a two-year-old child.
Well, Brian Hare and Dognition to the rescue. For the past two weeks, Barbara and I have been spending a few minutes every evening running Callie through a battery of tests developed my Dognition. Here’s how Dognition describes the tests:
“You begin the Dognition Experience by playing a series of science-based games that will reveal your dog’s unique abilities. This knowledge is the first step in creating an even stronger connection with your dog — a connection that can help you be the best owner you can be for your furry friend.”
So far, we haven’t received any results on Callie’s testing, but the games have been fun, and we’re looking forward to seeing the first results. Stay tuned!
Here’s a three-minute audio clip from the “Dog Appreciation Lessons” CD, in which Michael Hingson describes that fateful day in New York City, on September 11, 2011.
Here’s my interview from last year with Michael Hingson, whose dog, Roselle, won the 2011, Hero Dog Award for leading Michael and some other people out of the World Trade Center on September 11,k 2001:
When I wrote “My Doggie Says… Messages from Jamie,” I was curious about why Jamie did so much sniffing before peeing. Was she looking for something? Was she looking for the absence of something? Well, there are several on-line articles that answer this question. Mostly, they are sniffing for other dogs’ “marks,” so they can “mark over them.” That is, so they can claim the territory for themselves.
This probably explains why Jamie would also sniff her way all the way to the end of someone’s yard before peeing. Presumably, because there were no other marks to “mark over.”
If you read this blog, you know that Callie and I have a daily soccer match — at her invitation. It’s a ritual we’ve followed since Callie was eight weeks old. So for over five years, we’ve been doing our daily soccer game. I kick the ball in the air, and Callie “bonks” it off her nose.
You also know that we have our little ups and downs. Some days, Callie really gets into the game, and other days, she just stares blankly as the ball whistles over her head. I’m never quite sure what to expect.
You also know that I think dogs are really smart — much smarter than even our scientists give them credit for. They read our body language better than we read theirs – most of the time.
You also know that I have all kinds of little tricks for getting Callie into the game. Sometimes it takes us a while to get started, so I have to encourage her and try to persuade her to start the game. She’s always enthusiastic when we run outside, but sometimes it takes a few dozen kicks on my part before Callie gets going.
Well, last night, at soccer time, it was raining fairly hard. My first reaction was to skip soccer for the day. But Callie kept begging me to play. Finally, I gave in and opened the door to the back yard. But I said to Callie, “Look, it’s raining pretty hard; the yard is getting muddy; so we need to get started right away and just play for about five minutes.”
Imagine my surprise when Callie followed my instructions to a tee. She “bonked” the first kick and worked her golden retriever butt off for five minutes. Then we did our ceremonial “high five” and got inside out of the rain.
Unbelievable. What was she responding to? Was it what I said (really, out loud)? Did she pick up on my body language somehow? Whatever it was, it was the first time she’s ever jumped right into the game and then stayed with it for five minutes without interruption.
We were both a little wet when we finished, but it was worth it.
The whole point of “My Doggie Says… Messages from Jamie” is that your dog is probably “talking” to you more than you realize and that it is possible to get proficient at interpreting the messages. “My Doggie Says…” is a collection of eighty-five color photographs that capture different behavioral messages that Jamie is sending. Sometimes it takes some detective work to decipher what your dog is saying, but it’s worth it. As you get better at understanding “dog,” your relationship with your pet will improve noticeably.
Here’s an interesting article, by Nadine Steele, that describes a whole host of messages your dog might be sending you if it feels some kind of frustration or tension. Dogs have a lot of “code” for different kinds of tension that they feel. Nadine’s article does a great job of identifying the important ones.
Can you imagine being a dog with more than one home to go to every week? Well, I interviewed Barley, a Labrador Retriever and Rent-A-Dog, to find out what it’s like for him. Here’s a short sample from Barley.
This photo was taken on a recent fishing trip at Lake Arrowhead. Callie loves to go fishing. Actually, she loves just about everything at Lake Arrowhead, but she’s really in her element on our boat, cruising from fishing spot to fishing spot, sniffing my bass before I release them back into the lake, and roaming around the boat without her leash.
She’s a terrific fishing buddy. She obviously loves being on the boat and letting her coat blow in the wind as we cruise around the lake. She starts to get excited when she sees my fishing rod bend down from the weight of a fish. She watches attentively while I net a fish and remove the hook. (I release all the bass I catch.) And she usually takes a sniff, or a lick, at my catch before I put it back in the lake.
I’ve had a lot of dogs, and, as you know, I wrote a book about Jamie Golden Retriever (“My Doggie Says…: Messages from Jamie”), but I’ve never had a dog that participates as much as Callie. She’s part of the team, and she knows what she’s supposed to do every step of the way. When we first get on our boat, Callie is on her leash — so she won’t dive into the lake and do one of her other favorite things — go for a swim. But once she’s on the boat, the leash comes off. It was easy to train her to stay inside the boat. All it took was a couple of corrections when she started to climb up on the bow or the stern. Now she roams freely on the boat, and she’s obviously proud to have so much freedom.
Some dogs would just be a “bump on a log.” They might just go along for the ride, but not Callie. She interacts and participates every step of the way. She asks for fresh water if her water bowl is low. She looks for a comfortable place to sit — or lie — sometimes in the sun, sometimes in the shade. On a hot summer day, she will ask me to put up the bimini top, so she’ll have some shade to lie in. When we leave one fishing spot for another, she looks for a place to sit beside me. Sometimes, she’ll wait to climb up on the seat until I move a fishing rod or boat line out of the way. Always interacting, and always extremely polite.
If you follow this blog, you know that Callie and I play soccer every day. Here’s what that looks like.
This has been an incredible bonding process. Callie’s focus “comes and goes” during our soccer matches. So I’ve had to learn how to adapt to, and “manage”, her focus and attention span. Sometimes, Callie gets off to a hot start and then loses interest. Sometimes, she has a difficult time getting started. I’ve learned a few tricks about keeping her interest level up. If she gets completely distracted (by eating grass, for example) it usually works to “stop” the game (literally, put the ball away) and then “start” it again.
We’ve gone through a couple of periods (a few days, perhaps) when Callie just didn’t seem very interested in playing soccer. One thing I’ve noticed this summer, though, is that usually after a few days at Lake Arrowhead, she attacks the soccer game with more vigor than ever. She’ll play for ten minutes without letup, answering my every kick with a “noser” — a “bonk” off her Golden Retriever nose.
As I try to tune into her energy levels, I’ve discovered that her “focus” sometimes reflects mine. If I’m distracted and thinking about some work issue, Callie seems to lose interest. If I work hard at staying “in the present” and staying focused on the game, she gets more “into it.” It’s almost as if she is training me to stay focused and “in the moment.” Is Callie my Zen-Dog Person Trainer?
My relationship with Callie goes far beyond fishing and soccer. Callie is the most socially interactive dog I’ve ever been around. She has several doggie boyfriends in the neighborhood, and, when she sees them coming, she gets very excited — wagging her tail and rushing to say “hello.” But it’s not every dog; she’s selective.
Callie is the same with people. If she sees a people friend, she either rushes to say “hi,” or she sits and waits for the person to catch up. When she’s walking near, or on, the nearby golf course, Callie is always looking for greens keeper Jeff — or his red golf cart. Jeff is probably Callie’s favorite person outside our family. Because Callie is so friendly, I have made a lot of new friends — both dog friends and people friends.
One of the most endearing things that Callie does is to sit down beside me and “ask” me to scratch her throat and neck. This can happen when I’m working in my office, watching TV, or sleeping soundly at 2:00 in the morning. It doesn’t matter; I’m always glad to accommodate her request. The message seems to be, “Just checking to make sure everything’s OK.”
This kind of #dogbonding has a spiritual and philosophical side to it. It sure feels like Callie is helping me grow in a lot of different ways.