Blog- “Canine Intelligence and ‘Emotional’ Behavior”

By January 30, 2017Blog, Newsletter

People often talk about canine (and feline) “intelligence”; check the internet and you’ll easily locate half a dozen articles describing which dog breeds are the “smartest”. Often, those listed as most intelligent are the breeds which respond best to their particular human companions emotional and physical needs and behaviors . . . we tend to anthropomorphize. One thing many “experts”, and those less qualified, tend to agree upon is that dog’s are typically “immediate response” animals; they don’t tend to think 2-3 steps into the future like we often find necessary. To this lack of “forward thinking” I would agree that this is typically true.

For an example of behavior that seems to contradict this theory, I’ll just go back to a story about one of our family pets. Rufus (mentioned earlier in this blog) was a mutt I found on the streets of New Orleans while in college; and later dropped off to be raised by my parents. We always joked about him being “way too smart” and sometimes problematic because of that (like repeatedly “disappearing” when out for his evening walks on Wednesday night—Thursday was garbage collection day in our neighborhood).

Here’s the best example of Rufus’ “intelligence” . . . he and my Dad had a routine. By the time all of the kids had left the house, my Mom was an “early to bed” type. Most nights, Dad and Rufus shared a couple of hours in the family room; Dad reading, Rufus keeping him company. At some point my dad would say, “Time for bed, Rufus” and place two light chairs from the room onto the couch—to keep Rufus from sleeping there Then the two of them walked through the family room into the dining room. He would say, “OK , goodnight buddy” and Rufus would head up the stairs to sleep on one of the two beds there.

One night, following the standard routine, Dad was in bed and realized he had forgotten to put the chairs on the couch. He got up and headed out toward the family room; walking through the dining room, he caught Rufus quietly sneaking back down the stairs, heading toward his preferred sleeping spot on the couch! Dad used to swear that Rufus even had a “guilty” look on his face when he got caught. Dog’s aren’t “supposed” to think like that.

Emotional intelligence or responsiveness in dogs is, by it’s nature, a little harder to gauge. Again, there is a significant segment of people who are convinced that dogs are not capable of many of the emotional responses we attribute to humans; “grieving” is one that many consider outside the realm of dogs capabilities. Again, I’ll use an example to argue against that theory. Years ago, one of my favorite Corvallis clients–we’ll call her “Rebecca” for the purposes of this blog—had “Bella” and “Sadie”, two closely bonded dogs (yellow labs) in her household; along with a variety of cats.

Bella was 2 years older than Sadie, and clearly the “big sister” socially—Sadie rarely let Bella get out of sight. Unfortunately, Bella was hit by a car right in front of Rebecca’s home, and died instantly; her “little sister” was right behind her, but uninjured. Sadie was inconsolable; at first, Rebecca thought that she would recover quickly . . . but her “sad” demeanor lasted for months. She would eat and drink enough to “maintain”, but that was about it. She was still a young dog, but never acted exuberant or vigorous—mostly ate, slept, went outside to urinate and defecate . . . but then came in and laid on the bed she had shared with Bella.

We even examined Sadie at the vet hospital and ran lab tests to make sure there was not a disease associated with her lethargy and lack of appetite—everything came back “normal”. She was obviously “grieving”; it took almost 6 months before her to recover from her depressed state. Many will say that dogs are not capable of such an emotional response; Rebecca and I don’t agree with that viewpoint.  

 

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