Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

It must be fairly obvious by now that I love having a Greyhound and that Mila has proven to be a fantastic addition to our little family (...I write a blog dedicated to her for goodness sake!!)

Lately however, I have started to query just how intelligent our new buddy is. She seems to get herself into situations which, with a little thought (even by a dog) would have been entirely avoidable (walking into blackberry bushes at the same part of our morning walk on numerous occasions and then wondering why it hurts EVERY time) and some of her reactions make me wonder just what is going on in that brain of hers. We have a puzzle ball at home that is meant to keep Mila entertained for hours as she works to get the treats inside which has to be constantly set on "Easy" - otherwise it gets barked at and thrown into walls in frustration.

I have never known another dog to do this, but when Mila hears a dog on TV, she will run in circles around the lounge trying to find where it is. It doesn’t really help that we have speakers set up around the room (so the barking comes from all four corners) - but what really amazes me, is that it doesn’t even have to be a real dog barking! Cartoon dogs get the same reaction (Zero from the Nightmare Before Christmas is a favourite) and we have even had examples of people on TV doing impersonations of dogs getting her attention. The other day we were watching a movie when someone onscreen (who didn’t sound anything like either me or my husband) called a dog over to them with a “Come here” and a whistle. Mila was on her feet in a flash and interested to see who would be taking her for a walk today. Nice to know where the loyalties lie I guess!!

I recently discovered an article about hound intelligence in one of the GAP Fast Friends magazines (Summer 2010 issue) which I thought I might try out. The article set out three tests which could be used to test a Greyhound’s problem solving abilities. We tried two of them and are building up to trying the third.

Maybe not such a good idea - you just stand there and look pretty!
First up we tried “the towel test” where you put a towel over the dog’s head and see how long it takes for them to take it off. The faster, the better. We did this one twice and although it took us a while to master, we got there in the end. I’m going to give Mila the benefit of the doubt and say that the first time, there was a little bit of confusion about what was going on. Was she getting dried? Were we putting our jarmies on and just hadn’t quite got there yet? She stood very patiently for about 10 seconds and then, when it was obvious that nothing was happening, tried to walk backwards out of the towel – to find the towel walking backwards with her. Then – light bulb moment!! – if I step on the bottom of the towel and pull it down, it will come off! The second time, there was no mucking around waiting to see what would happen – towel off, straight away. Result.

Next was “the tin can test” – where you show the dog a tasty treat and place it under an empty tin can and then ask them to find it. In theory, smart dogs knock the can over and have the treat in seconds, not so smart dogs won’t get it, get bored and wander away.

I tried this one with Mila twice (in quick succession). The first time, she got it straight away and had the treat almost immediately – good start. The second time however, she wasn’t so sure. She looked at the can, she looked at me, she pawed at the can, she looked at me again, she sniffed the can, and then she walked off. I called her back and showed her the treat again – she was definitely still interested because she tried to eat it before I could put the can back over it – but as soon as it went back on, we went through the process again. It was hilarious (although I promise that I wasn’t laughing at her)! I could almost hear her brain working as she tried to get her head around this seemingly elaborate puzzle. In the end, and completely by fluke (she tipped the can over with the paw as she tried to walk away), she got the treat and went on her merry way. It was like reverse learning…

So, I decided to leave it there. The third test can wait...or maybe I should just let sleeping dogs lie. When Mila doesn’t understand something, there is much barking and circling. We run through the gambit of things we have learned (is she asking me to sit? To play dead?) in the hope of getting our treat and eventually give up and walk away.

Who needs a smart dog anyway, right?


  1. hahah smart dogs are more likely to get themselves into trouble, that is for sure.... I think Barbie is on the sharp end of the spectrum though... I'm not sure the towel test is fair for greyhounds though as they have such a tolerant temperament they probably think the towel is just meant to be there...

  2. Yes, i agree with towel test not really being applicable ot an ex-racer. They have been handled so much, coated a lot, probed and prodded by vets etc etc and are so tolerant that they , to my opinion, simply accept towel being there , at least for a while. :)
    I think greyhounds as a breed are very intellegent in a crafty way - ie. plotting to get what the want :) I guess it is a personal opinion. I personally find Labradors incredibly stupid, but then , they are one of the most trainable breeds, for all sorts of things. :)