Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canine intelligence

I've heard and read over the years that dogs only remember a certain number of commands. The number varies depending on who you talk to. I've also heard that animals don't reason. I am not a animal behaviorist or a professional dog trainer so I can't give an educated answer to this but I spend a lot of time with my dogs so I can give my opinion on my dogs intelligence.
I'll start with reasoning and figuring things out. If a dog can't reason, how is it that during Tuckers last years he figured out how to fake sleep until Barb would walk out of the room before he would sneak into the kitchen and steal something off the cabinets?  This trait might be genetic because his son Dakota now does the same thing. How does a dog know when you are about to go bird hunting even when you try to hide the fact? As the dog matures, how does the canine know the difference between a meadow lark and a quail? I could go on and on but I believe that at least MY DOGS learn to figure things out because they learn associating and reasoning without the help of me.
Intelligence is a much different subject in my opinion. Dogs intelligence is different just like the IQ of humans. Different breeds of dogs are said to be smarter than others and intelligence is even different within the individual breeds. In my opinion Tucker was a very intelligent dog while his son, Dakota just use the gifts of a hunting dogs nose to find birds. That being said I'm going to use Riley as an example of what I consider a intelligent dog. Not because he can add or subtract, but because he has developed his own style of finding birds for me.
First off, he now has fantastic work ethics. There is probably a better word for this, but it's all I can come up with. By work ethics, I'm talking about his work habits when we are not in the best of hunting habitat or walking a road to a hunting spot. He hasn't always been this way but has learned to save his energy for the actual hunting. I'll use a friend's pup as a prime example. J.C.'s pup Neka is a bird finding machine at eight months old. I watched her a couple of different times looking for the elusive chukar. She quarters and ranges searching for birds. She is always at mach 1 speed. When she hits scent she slams the skids on to a stylish point. It is a beautiful thing to watch. Anyone who visits the Upland Idaho site has seen pictures of her along with her two sisters, Sky and Birdie. I haven't got to see the two sisters, but I understand they are of the same mould.
Anyhow, that is how Riley hunted his first two years. The more country you cover the more birds, right? That's how a pup full of enthusiasm thinks. Riley is now on his fourth year and his gait has slowed to a more deliberate pace. He is going about two thirds the distance he did two years ago but still covering the same distance. He has learned to save energy on the places that don't hold birds and trot straight to the areas that do. He will walk a straight line until he gets about three hundred yards away and then hunt the wind back towards me rather than to quarter back and fourth with the wind at our back. He has learned to utilize the draw thermals to find birds and has often walked me in on birds three hundred yards away. At the end of a hunt he seems to know that we are done and will help me find the trail that leads to the truck. He'll usually be there a couple hundred yards before me and unless he smells a bird from the trail he will save his energy for tomorrows hunt. For lack of the proper word that is what I consider dog ethics.
Another way Riley shows intelligence is the way he approaches a ridge. When he was young he would barrel over the top but now he slows testing the wind as he gets close. If the wind is at our back he will show back up below or above me pointing the draw we were about to abandon. Riley doesn't always nail the birds but his percentage is far above 50%. Many times I will come over a hill to find him semi locked up. As soon as we make eye contact he starts moving towards where he thinks the birds are in a slow deliberate move and we eventually get a lock up or find where the birds have been. A younger dog or even an older dog that hasn't quite the experience or intelligence will usually push to get to close to the birds in that situation and the shooter probably would never even see the flush.
Intelligence in dogs is due to experience in my opinion. The more you have your pup out there experiencing the hunt the more he learns how to handle situations. Riley also uses his ears a lot. I have seen him stop on a side hill and listen to chukars on the next ridge. Many times he will head that way, not wasting any energy covering the country. In his mind why waste time. Although he might bust the birds sometimes or it might take me a while to get to him, more often than not he will have the birds pinned by the time I get there. He will often use his sight to perform the same activity when the chukars are running the opposite hill.
I can also say the same about retrieving. When we first started hunting we had to look hard for downed birds but now through experience Riley knows how to use the wind to locate a crippled bird.
Intelligence in a dog is gained by experience. Dogs can't speak so they have to experience situations in order to learn. We, as humans, can speak. That's probably our biggest draw back when it comes to training our hunting partner. We don't know when to shut up. I don't hunt around people a lot but I often hear hunters whoaing their dog before he goes over the ridge. How is the dog going to learn to hold birds if you are always going to heal your dog before you walk over? Many hunters know where the birds have landed or are more likely to be so they direct the dogs to an area instead of letting them find the birds. Those dogs are not going to have the intelligence to find birds in new country without guidance. How many times have you seen a guy calling his dog to a downed bird only to have the dog show up with the bird from 100 yards away?
Range is also derived from intelligence. A smart dog knows when it's time to get out there and find birds and when it's time to stay close where the birds are.
Yes, I believe some dogs are more intelligent than others. Of course none are as intelligent as mine. J.C., Neka is going to be a very smart dog and maybe she already is. But it's due to you getting out there and letting her do what she was bred for. I hope you aren't offended by me using you for this analogy, but unfortunately for you, you are the only person with a young dog that I got to hunt with this year.
Tucker taught me a lot. The main lesson I took away from his training was simply "give me a chance."

1 comment:

jc said...

Your description of Riley is great. He is a super sharp dog who has had vast amounts of time to hone his skill on the chukar slopes. When I picked Neka one of the things that drew me to her was the few seconds she would take to deliberate before she engaged with the other pups. She didn't shy away, but just sat there and watched. Honestly she looked a bit confused. It might sound odd but I took that as intelligence winning out over impulse. Even though she is a "bundle of joy" right now, she does a ton of that pausing already. It makes me smile because dogs I've watched experienced dogs I consider great dogs (Riley, Zealot, and Bruce's dog Sage) constantly doing the same thing. Thanks for the compliments. I think she's pretty smart. =)