on 9/18/2010 at 6:48 AM
Recently I wrote a blog concerning the use of a ball in training and this has led me to think about how dogs' innate intelligence now, has been developed through the many thousands of years collaboration with man. Obviously it is the closest relationship of any two animals, only that of man and horse comes anywhere near it. Despite the fact that of course other primates are closer to us genetically, they do not understand us in many ways as much as a dog does. One of these is hand signals. A chimpanzee for instance does not understand when we use our hand to point, even if it at food, although they use their own hands in many way like humans do. The significance of our pointing is lost on them, not on a dog however. Although, of course, a dog does not communicate by means of pointing a leg, like their ancestors, they use their heads.
It would be much more natural for a dog to understand us if we too, like the wolf, had a pronounced long nose, but as we do not, they have difficulty following a direction by us pointing our head, however, if you stick out your arm they will very quickly understand what you mean. It is perhaps the easiest thing to teach a dog. Although so alien to them, they seem to understand it innately. It is of course essential to use it with deaf dogs, but very useful with any particularly hunting or working dogs. If a dog is off leash and perhaps going ahead, it is the simplest thing to call or whistle to summon its attention and point in the direction you wish it to go. If you don't already do it, you will be surprised how dogs understand this peculiar gesture very quickly indeed.
What follows is not of any practical use, but just an illustration of how intelligent and amazing dogs are.
I have a burglar alarm at home, not really necessary at night when I have several dogs, one of whom is an especially good watchdog. However, as it is a further deterrent, I switch it on. It uses infra-red sensors, one of which is situated in the hall below the stairs, which will pick up movement at the bottom of the stairs, ignoring the first movement (because insects may crawl across the sensor) and react to the second movement, starting a rising sound for several seconds, giving time to get to the box to switch off before the alarm goes off. My dogs sleep upstairs in my bedroom. In the morning, of course, they are keen to go on their early morning walk, and have to wait for me to use the bathroom and dress. A few years ago, my ex-racing whippet cross (a lurcher)called Tigger decided one morning that it would run down the stairs whilst I was still not ready. Of course it set the alarm off. Tigger did this perhaps twice over a period of weeks then discovered that if it could run down the stairs and wait under the sensor in the hall, that it would not set the alarm off, because of the alarm being adjusted to only go off on the second movement. I found this amazing. Later when I got the second dog, Millie, she too ran down the steps with Tigger but went further and set the alarm off. After one or two failures, she too learnt where she could stand without starting that horrible racket.
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