Border Collies are consistently among the top ten on those “smartest dog breed” lists, and they often rank number one depending upon who put the list together and the criteria used to assess canine intelligence.
What would happen then, when a Border Collie puppy gets adopted by a retired psychology professor with a penchant for scientific research and new discoveries in canine intelligence? Add to that, the man’s desire to help his smart dog unlock her full potential, so much so that he’s willing to devote four to five hours a day on training and teaching her?
The result is Chaser, a dog who knows more than a thousand words; that’s more than any other animal except human beings! Her trainer and constant companion is John Pilley, and he’s written a wonderful account of his experience with this incredibly intelligent dog in the book Chaser, Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words.
There are very few dog breeds that aren’t loyal to an owner who has earned their trust and respect. Stubbornness and independence are common characteristics in many breeds, along with the ability to think for themselves. But when it comes to loyalty, it’s the herding and livestock guardian breeds that display a unique devotion to those they bond with.
One trait wolves passed on to domesticated dogs was a strong sense of loyalty to their pack members – their family. In the early history of our relationship with dogs, warring humans utilized the size, aggressiveness and loyalty of large dogs to fight alongside soldiers on the battlefield. Since that time, dogs used in battle have been refined and tempered through selective breeding to fit into our more civilized world.
Guardian dogs, however, have remained much like they were when they were first created centuries ago to guard flocks from large predators. It’s thought that most livestock guardian dogs (LGD) are descendants of the extinct Molossus dog. These dogs were mastiff-like, big, powerful, courageous and loyal. Because guardian dogs are usually large breeds, it’s essential to make sure they get a proper diet formulated especially for big dogs, like the CANIDAE Life Stages Large Breed formulas for puppies and adults.
Anyone who has lived and interacted with dogs knows how closely they pay attention to our words. I’ve even been known to spell out my intentions in an attempt to keep my dogs from knowing what I’m saying so they don’t get overly excited. In reality, I’m the one being fooled, and can attest that my dogs have mastered the spelling of certain words. There’s no question in my mind that dogs comprehend a lot more than they are given credit for, and can understand our spoken words and even some spelled words.
The Border Collie holds the top spot when it comes to the most intelligent dog breed, so it was no surprise that Chaser, a female Border Collie, was crowned the smartest dog in the world in 2010. Within a three year period, she learned the names of 1,022 different toys, and even learned how to correctly categorize them.
Understanding words and vocalizing, of course, are two different abilities. Dog owners learn how to read their dog’s body language and recognize their dog’s unique yips, yaps, whines and barks. We can communicate with our best friend with or without the use of words.
Dogs learn language skills from us when we repeat and reinforce what we say to them. That’s all training is – telling your dog what you want, and then reinforcing his compliance with a tasty treat, like soft and chewy CANIDAE TidNips™ or crunchy Snap-Bits™. Some breeds are more stubborn than others, which require his owner to be even more dedicated and consistent when it comes to teaching basic commands. However, after living with multiple purebred and mixed breeds dogs, I am convinced dogs do have an innate ability to learn. We just need how to learn to focus on motivating them so they are interested in learning.
Chaser’s owners Alliston Reid and John Pilley, who are also researchers, conducted a study with their dog at Wofford College. The study showed that their dog had the same vocabulary skill as a three year old child. Their research also concluded that dogs have the ability to learn and develop a more extensive understanding of words than was once believed. They even believe the study proves our canine friends can learn words for specific objects and put them into categories according to shape and function. Chaser was also able to pick out a new object in a group of familiar ones by using reason. She knows proper names and remembered the names of toys better than they did. Reid and Pilley believe Chaser is capable of learning even more words if they take the time to teach her.
No matter how hard we try to protect our pets, accidents happen. It’s how we respond to help a pet deal with devastating injuries that makes a difference in how they recover. A dog named Zip survived a horrible accident that changed her life forever. Sue Cohen, Zip’s owner, has had to deal with health concerns of her own. After seeing a You Tube video of Zip running an agility course in her wheelchair, I contacted Sue to learn more about her amazing dog. However, I discovered through our conversations that Sue is equally amazing and inspiring. She didn’t allow Zip to give up, and Zip returned the favor.
As I watched the video, I could see the smile on Zip’s face and her enjoyment was evident as she ran. Zip could no longer sail over bars, weave through poles or race through tunnels, but just being on the course made her happy. Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the brave Border Collie run. Her body may be disabled, but in her heart Zip is the same dog she has always been. Not even a wheelchair can keep her away from a sport she loves.
Sometimes a dog gets lucky and finds the right owner. This was the case with Zip. Her first home was with an owner who didn’t understand the needs of a Border Collie, and while Sue was fostering Zip, she fell in love with her and discovered Zip’s potential in agility. “When I got the papers from the previous owner, I saw that her grandfather had been imported from Scotland and there was a Great Britain Herding Champion (a highly coveted achievement) in her bloodline. I had already named her Zip and I found out she had an ancestor also named Zip.”
Sue lives with chronic pain and was diagnosed with genetic degenerative disc disease when she was 22 years old. The disease has made it difficult for her to do agility with her dogs, but agility is something she enjoys as much as her dogs. When Zip didn’t give up, her determination inspired Sue to keep going too.
We are constantly finding new ways to use a dog’s nose and their ability to control other animals in ways that are ecologically friendly and effective. Wildlife detection dogs are used at airports to keep runways free of pesky wild birds that can pose a danger to pilots, and at golf courses to control birds and other wildlife. Dogs are also being trained to help wildlife groups track and manage wildlife populations.
If you’ve ever taken your dog on a hike through the woods or along your favorite trail, you can tell their nose is in full gear pulling in all of the enticing scents they find on the ground and in the air. A pile of dung along the trail means nothing to us, as long as we don’t step in it, but to a dog it’s a very interesting prize to find. A nonprofit organization was created in 2000 called Working Dogs for Conservation. This organization trains and provides scat-detection dogs to help biologists find, manage and research wildlife populations.
For wildlife biologists, animal droppings can give them valuable information about the animal that left it. Biologists can determine how healthy the animal is by what it’s been eating, what their range is, what their reproductive status is, and if their immune system is working properly. They can also learn if there are toxins in the environment from what they find in an animal’s scat. This is important because it can alert biologists to any potential problems with a toxin that could affect people as well. Endangered animals can be tracked to determine if they are recovering or if they need more protection.
A Border Collie is a great dog to share your home with, as long as you can keep up with them. Because they are so smart, it’s easy for them to dream up things that get them into trouble. They also need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. The Border Collie was born to herd, but if you don’t have any livestock, what can you do? One option to consider is renting sheep. In fact, sheep rentals are on the rise as owners with bored Border Collies search for ways to entertain their dogs and give them some much needed exercise.
Dealing with any bored dog, regardless of his breed, can leave your home in a shambles and a perfectly good couch ripped to shreds. It’s not the fault of the dog who releases pent up energy while he’s home alone. Border Collies aren’t made to just sit around twittering their paws waiting for us to come home. They need plenty of stimulating action that allows them the opportunity to stretch their legs and minds. I’ve learned from experience just how smart a Border Collie is, and that they need lots of exercise. On the plus side, it forces me to get some much needed exercise as well.
Border Collies originally came from the border area of Scotland and England, and are thought to be descendants of dogs used by Vikings to herd reindeer. It’s said that a Border Collie has a hypnotizing stare and is able to control sheep and other animals with their intense eyes. With no sheep to herd, they turn to cats, kids, adults and other dogs as the next best thing. They don’t care what they herd, they just want and need something to control. After all, that’s what they’re good at and it’s the reason for the breed.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.