When I saw the title of this book, I thought, "Aw, c'mon—it's got to be either fiction or a comedy."
Don't get me wrong now. I am a real dog-lover. I love dogs in general, and I adore my dogs in
particular. But I would never nickname them Einstein or Genius. They are certainly good dogs, and do their best to please me, but they also do some real
stupid things too, then look at me like, "What?" However, after reading this
book, I am reassessing my judgment, thinking, "Oh, yeah, my dogs can do that."
Coren has written a very interesting and easy-to-read book, filled with lots of useful information. He begins with a bit about famous "movie star" dogs, then goes on with some history of the dog, and our attitudes towards its intelligence. I want to warn you, however, that for an animal rights activist, there is quite a bit of material here I would rather not have read, concerning the things people have done to dogs—quite unfathomable to me. But most of what he has written is pleasant to humorous, including numerous anecdotes on smart things dogs have done. In the back, he gives us tips to correct personality/behavior issues in dogs. Of course, it is best to begin training when dogs are puppies. Rex and Molly came to live with me when they were only four-and-a-half weeks old, so they have essentially spent their entire lives with me—among all the dogs that have owned me, that is a first. Now, I admit I am not even remotely skilled as a dog trainer, but because of our time spent together and my persistence in developing them to be good companions, I have perhaps been more successful than I realized. They are certainly the best-behaved dogs I have ever had the pleasure to live with. I have gotten some new ideas from this book to make our lives together even more enjoyable.
Throughout the book, Coren poses the question of whether dogs think and have a sense of consciousness, or are they just running on instinct, or, as was believed centuries ago, they and all animals were simply machines with no consciousness at all. (This had much to do with religious issues, because if it were admitted that animals had a sense of consciousness, then they would also have a soul, and heaven would get way too crowded then. Oh my, how asinine!) Then he goes on to prove his case that dogs do think, reason, solve problems, according to their level of intelligence which is effected by both breed and upbringing.
I cannot believe that anyone who lives with animals could possibly doubt that not only are they conscious, but they have a very well-developed soul. Certainly as all the books by animal communicators testify, those of us who are spiritually oriented not only believe animals are conscious, but many are much more spiritually advanced than humans. That has been my opinion for years. and while animals may not always act intelligent in the way humans perceive it, they know things at a much deeper level than we do. Many think that they have come to help humans on the planet, and many also believe that animals are a step upward on the reincarnation cycle. So, as I read this book, I almost felt like I was stepping backward a century. As usual, the "scientific" community lags way far behind the spiritual one. But this is a whole different aspect of intelligence than what is discussed here, and really knowing now so much about this simulated reality in which we live, I'm not sure I believe all that either.
This book was published in 1994, but, I really thought I was reading material much older, perhaps because of Coren's writing style. For instance, he referred to people with mental challenges as "mentally retarded" which is offensive and certainly politically incorrect, especially by 1994. He also kept referring to his "daughter by marriage."Did he mean step-daughter? Daughter-in-law? I found it odd. He also mentioned that many people probably feed their dogs table scraps. Really? In this day and age? I can't imagine that. I searched long and hard to find the food, for both my dogs and cats, that seemed best suited to their digestive system. For my dogs, Dad's Bite-Size Meal works perfectly. It is made with ingredients from local farmers (Pennsylvania), and doesn't seem to have as much dye as other brands. Rex has a problem with having to poop too much, but with this food, twice, three times at most per day.
But I'm getting off track. There were just so many things that triggered reactions in me as I read, so I jotted them down. In the first chapter, "Do Dogs Think?," Coren talks about Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, who was really a laddie, and some amusing information about Dandie Dinmont terriers.
In the second chapter, "The Natural History of Dogs," he tells an interesting mythical tale of the Kato Native Americans of California, whose God, Nagaicho, created the world. But he did not create dogs, because he already had a dog, and the two always traveled together. Coren also discusses the earliest fossils of dogs, early animals from which dogs may have evolved, and how humans and dogs likely became bound together.
Each chapter begins with a quote, and the third, "Early Views of the Dog's Mind" starts with a quote by John Holmes:
A dog is not "almost human" and I know of no greater insult to the canine race than to describe it as such.
I agree. Anyways, in this chapter, we hear of more dog
legends, including the "dog-king" of Iceland. And the one from the Congo tells why dogs no longer are able to speak. Coren then discusses dogs and religion.
Judaism believed they were "unclean," and so did many Christians, but there were also positive beliefs about dogs, too. Saint Thomas Aquinas in the
thirteenth century, agreed with Aristotle's views that "dogs and humans differ only in the degree to which they possess certain mental abilities." And the
legend of Saint Margaret (of Cortona) includes a dog that remained with her even after she joined a convent. Saint Patrick's legend also includes dogs, and
numerous other Saints do also.
However, I found the next chapter, "Modern Views of the Dog's Mind" more disturbing because of the cruel and abusive treatment of dogs when it was considered scientific fact that they were simply machines, even to the point that many believed they didn't feel pain! So hurting them caused no problems. I often truly hate people.
In "The Nature of Dog Intelligence" we've made more progress, and not only are able to admit the obvious, that dogs are conscious, but have distinguished different levels and types of intelligences, such as spatial intelligence, which would include remembering where an object is. My dogs excel in that area. They know exactly where their rawhide chewies are and which is the "better" one, (there are always two, but they both want the same one). And that reminds me of an incident that happened not too long ago, which not only proves dogs have spatial intelligence, but that they understand language much better than anyone imagines.
After the dogs go for their early evening walk, they each go in their crates and get a biscuit, then settled down and take a nap which gives me some peace and quiet to work on my computer or read. I had tossed both their biscuits into the crate from the top as usual, but Rex's landed flat, and sat on top of the crate. He frantically searched on his blanket until I said, "Rex, look up," which he immediately did, and found the treat.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence refers to body coordination and intrapersonal intelligence is a dog's knowledge of itself and its capabilities. Interpersonal intelligence involves social skills. There are more intelligence types for people, but these are the ones that apply well to dogs.
Now we are getting into the nitty-gritty, as the next chapter discusses "Linguistic Intelligence in Dogs." Here, Coren lists all the words or phrases his own dogs understand and respond to, sixty in all, but he says the list is incomplete. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive. He also discusses dog body language, and vocalizations to help us understand better what our dog is trying to communicate with us.
Of course those of us who spend a great deal of time with dogs constantly talk to them, which Coren recommends. Dogs, and cats, like ritual and routine and a sense of predictability, so I have lots of phrases that I use over and over along with the same action. When I come home, my dogs know the sound of my truck before I even pull into my long driveway, and in the summer when they are out in their pen, they will be barking as I turn in. When I get out of my truck, I always yell "Mommy's home" so they can be assured that it is in fact me and not an intruder. Plus, my cats won't go scattering to hide. Roonie meets me at the door while the others remain poised in front of their food bowls.
Coren says when he takes his dogs out for a potty run, his phrase is "Be Quick," but I find "Do your Poo" works well also. As mentioned above, when the dogs go out for their early evening walk, they get a treat then take a nap, but there is a ritual connected with it. After both have been out, I say "get in your crates and you can have a biscuit," at which point they jump and bark and run around, and I say, "No, I didn't say dance around and be an asshole. You always get those commands confused," at which point they think that's even funnier, and bark and jump even more. By the time the biscuits are in my hand, Rex is in his crate, tail wagging in high gear, but Molly has to be a little more certain that I got two biscuits, and not just one!
In "Varieties of Dog Intelligence" Coren briefly explains three types of dog intelligence: Instinctive Intelligence, Adaptive Intelligence, and Working or Obedience Intelligence, then devotes a chapter to each. Here he talks about different breeds and where their specialties lie. The quote at the beginning of the "Adaptive Intelligence" chapter is by Robert Benchley:
I have known dogs, especially puppies, who were almost as stupid as humans in their mental reactions.
In this chapter, Coren also provides a "Canine IQ" test that you can use on your own dog.
In "The Personality Factor," Coren provides another test, for your dog's personality, then in the next chapter, "ncreasing a Dog's Intelligence," he provides suggestions to help build your dog's intelligence levels, and improve personality flaws. He ends with "The Dog's Mind and the Owner's Happiness."
In all, despite some unpleasant information I would rather not have known, and some other little oddities, this is a book worth reading if you are owned by dogs. To end, I want to share a story which would go under the heading of "problem solving abilities" of dogs.
For years, I have been buying the big rawhide rolls at Marc's, two per week, which usually last till the next shopping trip. Inevitably, both dogs want the same one, even though they're identical. Rex usually takes Molly's away from her, but when he goes to get a drink, she gets it back. Sometimes he isn't thirsty and she gets impatient, so she imitates me. When the new chewies are being distributed, I throw them one at a time and whoever "fetches" fastest, gets first dibs. So, Molly has learned to play fetch on her own, in the attempt to lure Rex away from his. She will grab the other chewie (the one no one wants), and toss it across the room, then run and get it, keeping her eye on Rex and hoping he'll join in. It is really quite funny.
But he usually doesn't fall for it. So when I take them out for their final walk of the evening. I take Molly first so when Rex goes out, she can pick out whatever chewie she wants. This usually works, except once this winter. I took Rex out after Molly, and it was dark of course. I noticed something white in his mouth and shined the flashlight and realized he had brought the chewie out with him, firmly clamped in his teeth! Well, when we got to the door, Molly didn't think it was funny, and she was waiting there to tear into him! He is the dominant one, but this time—well, I had to pull him back out the door. Of course I was laughing hysterically when I realized how conniving dogs can be. How can anyone not love dogs?
Here below are pictures of Einstein and Genius, er, Rex and Molly, and there's a funny story that goes with this, too. The day I tried to get the pictures taken, I had my camera with me as I was taking them out to the pen for the day. I tried and tried to get Molly to sit and look up at me without moving as I posed her, but the minute I went to back up and snap the picture, she would move or look away or hang her head down. After about ten minutes I could tell she was getting frustrated, so I tried again in the evening as I brought them in from the pen, with no better results.
However, she must have mulled it over in her mind all night, because the next morning, as soon as I got my camera aimed at her, she sat, looked up at me, and froze! Over and over. This is one of the beautiful photos that resulted. They are Cocker Spaniel/Min Pin mixes.
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