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Geometry Lessons with Donny the Rescued Dobie

Hi Dogster B & T friends! As a big Dogster fan and "mom" to Dogsters Mokie and Monte, I am very excited to have the...

Casey Lomonaco  |  May 4th 2010


Hi Dogster B & T friends!

As a big Dogster fan and “mom” to Dogsters Mokie and Monte, I am very excited to have the opportunity to keep the wonderful Dogster community well-informed and up-to-date on the latest behavior and training concepts, techniques, and developments. I hope to share information which will give you the skills you need to be the best dog parent you can possibly be!

Every day in my job, dogs teach me that they are more brilliant than we ever imagined giving them credit for. I see innovation and behavioral creativity in each shaping session I do with my own dogs or dogs belonging to my clients.

I think often of our cultural definitions of intelligence and excellence, as the terms relate to our evaluations of both people and animals.

Some people excel in math but could not play a chord on a guitar if their life depended on it. I have a friend who is a talented and very accomplished artist but she struggles to spell even simple words correctly. Some people learn new foreign languages to fluency rapidly and yet struggle to communicate in their own, native language in social encounters or in front of large groups of people. Some people are financial geniuses, others are world-class athletes. Some people are incredibly socially savvy and charismatic, yet may have received poor grades throughout their educational careers.

Among these individuals, who is intelligent? Who displays excellence?

These arguments have been applied to (wo)man’s best friend as well. Stanley Coren, respected dog behavior expert, ranked dozens of dog breeds according to “level of working intelligence” in his published work, The Intelligence of Dogs.

As a devoted Chow mom, I admit to not liking Coren’s ranking system simply because I think Mokie is the smartest girl in the world and Chows are very nearly at the bottom of the list. My dog can “read” a variety of words, for goodness sake! She can play the piano! She can sing and dance! She can win the hearts of clients (even those who come to orientation with a fear of Chows) with a simple high five.

Unquestionably, there are many types of intelligence and excellence in dogs. Border Collies are alleged to be the most intelligent of dog breeds, but can you find one that tracks as well as a bloodhound (one of the least intelligent breeds, according to Coren), or rids a barn of vermin more rapidly than a Jack Russell on a mission? Can you find a German Shepherd that can beat a “less intelligent” sighthound like a Borzoi or Afghan Hound (both at the lower end of Coren’s intelligence spectrum) when it comes to sighting and taking down game? Maybe, maybe not. The only real lessons learned here is that: more study is required on canine creativity, capacity for learning, and types of intelligence and that every person thinks their dog is the smartest dog in the world.

But, can any of your dogs do geometry? I admit that even my creative Chow and superstar Saint cannot.

At least one behaviorist thinks a rescued Doberman named Donny can.

In this video, Donny begins arranging his toys in geometric patterns. First triangles, then Donny starts being even more discriminating, grouping toy arrangements by type (monkeys, or frogs) or physical position (all “face up,” vs. all “face down”) and adding new “patterns” (straight lines and semi-circles).

Check out Donny’s creative work; his portfolio, if you will. What do you think of Donny’s performance art? I think the jury is still out, but am very hopeful that stories like Donny’s will inspire academia to study canine cognition more intently.

I’d also be interested in any comments you might be willing to share about your observations of what you perceive to be behavioral creativity in your own dog!

Until tomorrow, Dogsters, happy training!