Dogs are, without a doubt, one the most intelligent creatures on this planet. I may be slightly bias, as I write this with my gorgeous greyhound nestled beside me. I've been around dogs all my life and am a true dog lover but it is not just me that knows how clever they are.
If we delve into our evolutionary past, we soon see their involvement in our migration across the world was essential. In some pretty hostile environments they helped us survive, and thrive. With this knowledge, even the most dubious of folk start to understand and embrace my opening statement.
Dogs can be all doe eyed and bounce around a lot, right? Well, it was during their evolution that their facial features gained an emotional childlike appearance to endear us to them. They physically changed to be more appealing to us. However, do not be fooled, they are highly intelligent animals and the advantages our canine sidekicks gave early man were huge.
Most dogs were taken by humans to explore and inhabit new lands and they adapted well to these often-unforgiving environments. In those early days, every advantage was needed to outlast the competition. Man may have coped. More likely they would have struggled without dogs. Dogs were essential to man thriving and becoming “top dog” amongst the species.
Almost certainly larger than the pet dogs of today, the early domesticated canids were the guardians of the communities, alarm systems, hunters and haulers. Giving humans better eyes, ears, hunting skills and ultimately more energy during a survival of the fittest period.
In return, dogs also reached top spot in the animal kingdom. They intelligently associated themselves with humans and became fundamental to our community. Clever, no?
Today's Domesticated Dog
Even today, dogs are not only our cuddly, playful pets. They are still widely used to assist the human race. Depending on where you look in the world, dogs are still aiding our survival in extraordinary ways when you consider they are not a walking, talking human being.
Dogs are companions and help people with sensory disabilities. They are often integral to mountain or wilderness rescue missions. In farming communities, they ward off large predators and heard animals, reared for our consumption. Dogs are easily the most useful of our laboured animals.
The biggest reason dogs are so successful, is their ability to communicate with us in a way that no other species can. Dogs have learnt how to respond to verbal commands, which is impressive but their intelligence goes way beyond this. They have a sophisticated ability to learn, understand, think and problem-solve.
Chaser the Border Collie
Chaser, the worlds smartest dog is a border collie who recently turn 14 in April (2018). She joined Dr John Pilley’s family when she was just a pup. Since then she has learnt over a thousand words and is thought to be the world’s smartest dog. She has the world’s largest tested memory recorded in an animal and shows an incredible level of intelligence.
Dr John W Pilley welcomed Chaser into his South Carolina home in 2004. Within 6 years the psychology professor had taught her to identify and retrieve over 1,000 different named toys. He went on to write a paper on it Border collie comprehends object names as verbal referents with colleague Alliston K Reid.
The Secret to their Success
John had Chaser for several weeks before he named her. He says that because she wanted to chase anything that moved, they could not have named her anything better. He quickly established that for Chaser play was the major reinforcement for her learning. For Chaser play and praise was infinitely greater than food when it came to teaching behaviour.
“It is not as distracting and dogs don’t satiate on play” said John in the trailer to his book, which can be found on Amazon here - Chaser, Unlocking the Genius of a Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words or on their website - http://www.chaserthebordercollie.com/
Chaser can not only identify and retrieve the named toys. John has also taught her to handle the objects differently. A prefix to the name of the toy; Nose – to touch the named toy with her nose. Paw – to paw the named toy or take – to the take the toy away with an about turn. Chaser also learnt “common” terms such as “ball” or “stick” so regardless of the given name she could identify any ball or stick and fetch that back too.
Chaser’s intelligence even includes process of elimination. When asked to fetch a toy with a name that was not included in here expansive 1,022 directory of toys, she brought back the only toy she had not seen before.
Incredible Dog Intelligence
The teaching technique was simple. John would pick a toy, name it and show it to Chaser. Using repetition, play and plenty of praise Chaser soon associated the toy with the name. This technique shows just how eager a dog is to learn under the right circumstances, with positive reinforcement.
Not all dogs have the same aptitude. Not all breeds learn in the same way. What makes John and Chaser so successful was John's ability to see what Chaser responded to best. This, coupled with a hard work, and time, from both man and dog was the secret to their success.
Dogs do not play the same. In order to start training a dog, first you must learn how to play. What is it that makes a particular dog want to interact. What kind of mental stimulation peeks their interest? Is it chasing Frisbees and balls, or do they prefer to be chased. Are agility courses or problem-solving toys right up their street. Find the best way to play and you are in the trusted circle.
John Pilley's work and incredibly close relationship with Chaser is not only ground breaking in the field of dog behaviour, it is touching and displays a unique human/canine bond. I thoroughly recommend "Chaser, Unlocking the Genius of a Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words" for both gaining insights and for an simply inspiring read.
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