Dogs can be trained to do amazing things. They can learn many words, and how to respond to them. Our dog Roy goes to the front door in the living room when he hears, “Want to go out?” If we say it differently, “Want to go out to the car?” he promptly heads to down the hall, to the door that leads to the garage. The Pavlov’s dog theory of conditioned reflex is well known. Dog hears a command, or sees a particular gesture, and acts accordingly. Personally, I have owned dogs who were capable of responding to dozens of words and signals. They all learned quickly.
But, can dogs analyze, reason, and do simple problem solving on their own? One incident I experienced leads me to believe some can. In the mid-’70s I lived on Lake Waubesa near Madison, Wisconsin. We owned a wonderful black Labrador named Lakenheath’s Pipe Dream, or “Piper” for short.
She was fully obedience trained and field trained. She could respond to voice commands, hand signals, even whistles. But, one day she demonstrated the ability to think something through, and act without any command from anyone.
The basement of our home on the lake had a door that opened out onto the yard. It was just 70 feet or so from lake’s edge. One day I needed to do some work on the pier, which involved going into the water. I went down to the basement, took off my sneakers and climbed into a cumbersome pair of heavy rubber waders. Piper watched as I wobbled out to the pier and into the lake. She stood on the shore and looked on as I worked. Once finished, I climbed out of the water and stood for a moment, brushing a few lake weeds off my waders.
Piper looked up at me; then suddenly dashed toward the basement door, which I’d left open. A minute later, out she came, with both of my sneakers in her mouth. She galloped out to me and dropped them at my feet, wagging her tail.
I never taught her that. She just knew.
Related story: Thoughts on Owning a Dog