Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It's a dog's life

I was reading an article the other day about how some researcher has done a study and concluded that dogs aren't as smart as most people think they are. Goats, in her estimation, are just as clever. And a wide variety of other domestic animals can do most of the things that people are so proud of when their pet pooches do them, such recognise human faces, or being able to know one person from another by smell.

Ho hum, with a great big yawn, is my attitude to such stuff. Just another researcher needing another article to put on their CV to justify the big office and the big salary in whatever university they teach at.

The thing that surprises me just as much as the fact that anyone can be bothered to think this is a topic worthy of study is the fact that there are people out there who are truly convinced that dogs are smart. Not all dogs, of course. Just their dogs. Other people's dogs are, mostly, dumb as rocks. But their Fido or Rex or Prince is a genius.

Hardly. Here is the truth. Most dogs are not very smart. Many dogs are very smart when compared to other dogs, but that is not the same thing. I am very fond of dogs. We had dogs at home when I was growing up; and we have a big, loveable mutt in the house now on whom much money is spent for food, toys, and bedding, and much time and energy is expended on keeping him exercised. I have loved all of them. But I have never made the mistake in thinking that they were smart. As dogs go they are not the dumbest, but they are not particularly smart, even for dogs.

I remember one once getting hold of an old light bulb and playing with it. Before anyone could stop him he had managed to bite into and break it. And he kept on chewing even as the blood ran over his lips. We had some trouble getting him to let go of the bits and some anxious moments as we pieced them together trying to assure ourselves that he hadn't swallowed any and was going to die a horrible death as a result. He didn't, but no credit to him for surviving. I guess you could call it dumb luck.

No, we don't keep dogs because they're all that smart. But, by golly, their loyalty and affection is hard to beat. A dog will love you even if you don't treat him all that well. And if you're decent to him he'll adore you. And that unconditional love really melts the human heart.

And the numbers prove it. There are almost nine million dogs in Britain right now. Their closest wild cousin, the fox, numbers less than 300,000. Loving and being loved by humans is something that has really worked as a survival strategy for our four-footed friends. Pretty smart, if you ask me.

this article appears in this week's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

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