DEAR DIDI: We want a smart dog for our next house pet. What breeds should we consider? - Looking
DEAR LOOKING: “He’s so smart,” people exclaim while I work with a student in public. Passersby often remark with amazed looks as the dog performs on cue to basic commands. The mixed breed teenager stares at me intently while I answer people’s questions. “He’s so into you and focused” is another comment that I frequently hear. I have a secret for you, though. This dog isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed!
This is ideal because he is an excellent pet. He understands the Marker game and enjoys training. IQ has very little to do with it. People mistakenly equate trainability with intelligence. We can train lizards, giraffes, lions, fish, rats, and hermit crabs. The Laws of Learning pretty much apply to all species. I had a professor at Texas A&M University that was fond of reminding us that we train an earthworm and a graduate student the same way!
Everybody wants the gifted child … until they have one. The smart dogs get bored quickly. They have the intelligence to be creative and they use it to keep themselves amused. What amuses them is usually something we really don’t want them doing. The smart dogs constantly test limits and boundaries, question rules, and find inconsistencies. They require more of their owners. They are constantly “getting into trouble”. My smart dog figured out how to operate the ice dispenser in the door of the refrigerator and open a baby gate lock. Something the aforementioned mixed breed teenager would never think to try to puzzle out. Which dog would you rather live with? This is why the high IQ breeds tend to be used for working ranch dogs, detection jobs, and competition sport/obedience.
Sure, a smart dog may learn a skill more rapidly but that also means they learn more annoying behaviors more quickly also. Once the brilliant dogs figure out what they want, they won’t stop until they figure out how to get to it. Once the dog knows what you want, he will start trying all sorts of variations on the desired behavior to see just how hard they have to work to get their reward. The lesser IQ dog may take longer to learn a skill but once learned, the dog is perfectly happy to perform without continually offering modifications or improvements on the behavior.
What the average pet owner truly wants is a biddable animal. This term refers to a dog that is bred to work and cooperate with humans. Cooperativeness and desire to please are what humans really value in their four-legged companions! The Companion, Sporting and Herding breeds tend to be more biddable, therefore, trainable. Breeds that are bred to work independently, such as Terriers, Hounds, Dachshunds, and Huskies are not as easy to work with. Do your homework and pay attention more to biddability. Golden Retrievers are one of the most biddable dogs out there. People don’t enjoy shedding so they purchase Golden Retrievers crossed with Poodles thinking they will get the biddability of the Golden Retriever and the non-shed of the Poodle, but we don’t get to pick the features that come out in a mixed breed puppy. There are no guarantees in the so called “Doodles”. Standard Poodles are one of the most intelligent breeds next to the Border Collie. If you truly want the brilliant child and the problems that can come with it … get a standard Poodle!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.