September 05, 2007

The Problem of Intelligent Dogs

Patrick Burns quotes a Victorian writer on dogs:

We hear constantly of prodigies of dogs, whose very intelligence makes them of little value as slaves. When they are wanted, they are apt to be absent on their own errands.

"It's time to go. Have you seen Shelby?"

"She was here a little while ago."

They are too critical of their master's conduct. For instance, an intelligent dog shows marked contempt for an unsuccessful sportsman.

Back in the mid-1980s, I went dove hunting near Westcliffe. One of our group borrowed a friend's golden retriever--just took him out of the yard. Knowing Chuck, I am not sure if he asked permission first.

I know, I know, a lot of people think that goldens are sort of dim-witted.

Not this specimen. He was as professional as a Swiss guide.

He always knew who hit a bird and always returned the bird to the right person.

But if you missed, he would look over his shoulder and sneer. It is humiliating to be sneered at by a dog.

"I want one of those," I thought. But then someone gave me a Chesapeake Bay retriever pup instead.


mdmnm said...

Yeah, I've gotten disgusted looks from vislas after missing quail. They can really rub it in with a look- "You mean I worked this little son-of -a-gun up, pointed him, repositioned, held him, let you flush him, and then you missed?"

Henry Chappell said...

As I'm sure you know, Chessies have a reputation for hard-headedness, and don't take well to field trial training. On the other hand, they excel at tasks requiring initiative and endurance. Most of the old market hunters had little time or inclination for formal training and expected their Chessies to learn on the job.

Hard-headed or very intelligent and independent?

I know some excellent waterfowl guides who would choose the latter. They're stay busy working birds for clients and don't have time to handle their dogs on long blind retrieves. They swear by their Chessies.

Chas S. Clifton said...

When I got my first Chessie, I did some Hunting Retriever Club classes and events before I decided that the dog-club scene was too weird for me.

I did pick up some good advice, however. One advanced competitor said he could tell his (highly trained) Labs to pick up multiple birds in a specific order, but with a Chessie, he knew he had to let the dog set the order.

So, yes, "intelligent and independent," but also hard-headed.