Ben Franklin did not have man’s best friend in mind when he wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanack, « Genius without education is like silver in the mine ». Although Mensa may never recruit your pooch, education or training would benefit pet owners and validate the work of Stanley Coren and other researchers.
Intelligence tests and trainer observation has generated a list of the smartest breeds. The Afghan hound and Basenji are low on the list while the Border collie and Poodle jump to the head of the class. However, the best way to evaluate ability is to be aware of what the dog was bred to do and provide the appropriate training. No self-esteem issues, please! If dogs are learners then do they have a right to an education? Leave that bone for PETA to chew.
When asked what benefit training could be for an owner and a four legged companion, Terri Smith (obedience trainer) remarks: « Training strengthens the bond between owner and dog. In a class situation dogs interact and learn important social skills as well as coping with distractions. They learn to focus, and they gain self confidence which can eliminate problems of fear and shyness. »
If you decide to provide Fido with an ivy education start with a basic obedience class, specialization can come later. Several of the pet store chains offer puppy classes in obedience. Consult your yellow pages or call AKC to find local training schools. Since very few states require any type of license or accreditation, arrange to observe a class and speak with the trainer. When asked what qualities to look for in a trainer Smith states, « Someone who is patient, interacts well with people and dogs and can lavish praise. »
Recently I arranged to observe a novice obedience class instructed by Terri Smith. Four alert students greeted me with licks and sniffs. The yellow lab mix sported a festive bandanna. The standard poodle was too busy checking its coiffure in the mirror to notice newcomers to the class. The Australian shepherd was patiently waiting for the PBGV (Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen), a French hound who was habitually late for class. I suppose Max felt a sense of entitlement because of his breed’s rarity. Returning for the day was my eleven-year-old buff Cocker Spaniel. Katie had graduated from Allen’s several years ago. After achieving her CD (Companion Dog) AKC title, she retired to the family couch to rest on her laurels. With a buffet (dried fish, beef, liver etc.)of reward treats, the handlers and dogs were ready for class work.
The class began with group work. This included heeling, timed sits and downs. During
timed exercises, the dog is commanded either verbally or by hand gesture to sit and later to lie down for three minutes while the handler stands several feet in front of the dog. If the dog breaks position in an AKC show, the dog is immediately disqualified.
The remainder of class is individual instruction. The handler heels the dog off lead around the ring. Next is the figure eight. The handler guides the dog around cones (stewards in an AKC show) forming a figure eight. Stand for examination requires the dog to stand while the instructor or judge touches the dog’s back. Finally, class work is completed with the recall exercise. The dog is left in a seated position. The handler, positioned across the ring, calls the dog to come. Dogs are motivated when completing exercises by treats and praise. In an AKC show, no treats are allowed in the ring. Exercises become more complex as handler and dog level up. If your wondering how my veteran spaniel did, she remembered her training despite the fact Katie had been out of the ring several years. However, there were handler errors.
Yes, you can teach and old dog new tricks. « No dog is too old, and the best time to start training is when the dog is twelve weeks » according to instructor Terri Smith. Be aware that most dog schools do not deal with aggression problems to insure the safety of pets and humans. You will be referred to a behavior therapist. Issues of mouthing, jumping up, barking and potty training will be handled by instructors at the school.
Class ended on a humorous note as Terri Smith recalled the most memorable class event, which occurred in a class instructed by Nancy Brayton. Ms. Smith observed a class which welcomed a rather unusual student, a pet pig. Most of the other students accepted the pig in class, but the porker never mastered the sit command. Dogs are more accepting of differences than two legged creatures.
Although most pet owners do not pursue obedience training for AKC show competition, a basic canine education would even fulfill Franklin’s criteria. The End
Butler, Joy. « Canine Intelligence Test. » Suite 101. 2 July 2007. Media Inc. 17 Dec.
Coren, Stanley. The Intelligence of Dogs. Free P, 2005. 1-320.
Smith, Terri. « Dog Training. » Personal interview. 15 Dec. 2008.
Test Your Pooch’s Intelligence
Throw a towel over your dog’s head and time how long it takes him to free himself. An average may be 15 to 20 seconds. Place three paper cups upside down on the floor, three feet apart. Allow your dog to see you place a bit of weenie under one of them. Turn him in a circle twice or lead him into another room for about 30 seconds and then see if he can go to the right cup the first time.
Split a weenie in half so that it has a flat side. Place it just under the edge of the sofa. Time how long it takes him to get it out. An average may be around 60 seconds. Take your dog outside the yard on a long leash and walk along the fence several feet from the gate which you will leave open. Toss a bit of weenie back over the fence. See if he figures out to go back around through the gate to get the treat.
(Joy Butler, Canine Intelligence test)