This article appeared in the September 2013 AKC Gazette.
Do dogs reason? Of course they do! And anyone who says they don’t has obviously never lived with a Beardie. Every day my furry friends figure out things. I have a small, square, insulated case which is just big enough to hold an ice pack, a bottle of water and a couple of chunks of cooked liver (Okay, there’s a chocolate bar in there too). When it comes out of the closet, the Beardies currently in training immediately head for the front door. They’ve learned the case heralds a trip to the obedience club’s building for a workout (and some play time).The dogs not currently being trained just go on sleeping.
Whenever the subject of reasoning comes up, my mind turns to memories of Ti (short for Titanic because wherever there was a disaster in progress, there she was). When I lived in the Great White North, I was always misplacing mittens or gloves. Ti was taught to search for the lost mittens and bring them to me in return for a treat. It worked well, or so I thought. Then my mittens began to disappear even when I didn’t misplace them. Ti was picking them up, hiding them and holding them for ransom.
Then there was Bounce who quickly figured out obedience judges always call for an about turn at the end of a mat. No point in walking to the end when she’s going to turn around and come right back, she reasoned. So she’d quit heeling about six feet from the end of the mat, wait for me to execute the about turn and fall into heel position as I came by on the return trip.
No discussion of Beardie reasoning would be complete without mentioning Brit, the hairy Houdini. Brit could open any crate made at that time. He didn’t destroy them. He just determined how they worked and then calculated how to open them. Funny but when he got out, he didn’t go anywhere. He just came to find me so I could see what he had accomplished. Had Brit been human, he probably would have been accomplished at picking locks or opening safes.
Brit’s reasoning talents weren’t restricted to escaping. He used them for a bit of revenge.
Carlo was a substantial Briard who had been a rescue from a disastrous situation. As a result, he had a problem getting along with other dogs and one occasion, he attacked and badly injured Brit. After that, Brit did a disappearing act when Carlo was around. We lived on a farm at the time and the barn had a side door which was one of those split affairs where the top and bottom could be opened or closed separately. Usually the top half was open to allow Brit to get to his favorite snoozing spot – some hay bales just inside the door. On this particular day, Brit saw Carlo wandering around and executed an effortless leap through the open top half of the door to escape from Carlo’s view. About that time, Grant (my future ex-husband) called Carlo to come inside. Carlo ignored him. He called again. Same thing. Thoroughly ticked off at this point, Grant strode outside, went straight to Carlo and facing him, took firm hold of his collar on both sides of his head and proceeded to give him a lecture on coming when called. As I watched, a pair of brown eyes peered over the bottom half of the barn door. Realizing he’d never have a better chance for revenge without fear of retaliation, Brit leaped lightly over the door, circled around behind Carlo, gave him solid nip on his butt and was back on the other side of the barn door seconds later. Carlo let out a yelp but with Grant holding his head, he never knew who bit him. It happened so quickly even Grant didn’t see what had transpired. But I saw a pair of brown eyes topped with bronze eyebrows peek over the half door and I’d swear Brit winked.
In obedience, dogs are expected to perform a number of exercises in a prescribed manner which doesn’t allow much in the way of choices or chances to display reasoning. The penalty is a loss of points or a disqualifying score. But even then, under certain circumstances, Beardies can display a little creative reasoning. Zeal was instructed to pick up glove #1 in the Directed Retrieve exercise in Utility. Instead, he went out and picked up glove #2. As he headed back to his owner/handler, he realized that Laurie was facing the corner where the #1 glove still reposed. Oops! It only took a split second for Zeal to realize Laurie’s position meant he had the wrong glove. He did an about face, trotted over to the #1 glove and retrieved it back to Laurie. Unfortunately, it was still an NQ though a good example of Beardie thought processes in action.
The other evening, Glynnis parked herself at the front door and I opened it to let her in. She stood and stared a me for a moment, then turned and walked away. Okay. A few minutes later, she was at the back door. Again I opened it and waited for her. And again, she stared at me and then turned and trotted off. Hmmm. Then she appeared at the sliding glass door in the dining room. I was about to open it when a thought tiptoed into my mind. When I opened the door this time, I had a piece of liver in my hand. Glynnis took the treat from me as she walked inside and the look she gave me clearly said, “It took you long enough to figure that out, didn’t it?” Maybe I need some lessons in Beardie reasoning.
— alice bixler, Bearded Collie Club of America. website: bcca.us.