Category Archives: Canine intelligence

Full Attention


Pablo’s IQ skyrockets whenever food is involved. Seconds before this photo was taken he was snoring away on the sofa atop his favorite pillow. Then K went into the kitchen to make himself breakfast. Pronto, Pablo is on full alert.




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A Big Yawn


So Pablo and I are not as deeply bonded as I’d thought. Sob. According to a recent NY Times article on canine intelligence, one way to test if you and your dog are strongly bonded is to yawn and see if your dog reciprocates. Well, I’ve yawned until my lips ache and Pablo just looks at me as if to say, “What is that crazy person doing?”

Above is a shot of Pablo yawning–just to show that he does know how!


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Persistence Thy Name Is Pug

When Pablo first received this IQ toy from his grandma he found it a bit of a challenge. It’s really meant for a much bigger dog, one that can remove the yellow lids with its mouth. Pablo tried and tried, but his jaws only open so wide. Ever resourceful, he hammered at the lids with his paws. At first it took him anywhere from three to five minutes to remove a single lid and retrieve a tasty bit of duck jerky tucked underneath. Practice makes perfect, though, and he’s whittled his time down to three and a half minutes to remove all four! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When food is involved, this pug is a genius!


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Pablo’s Thank You Letter to His Gammy

Dear Grandma,

Thank you for coming to my birthday party last Thursday. And thank you for my presents! I loved the Happy Birthday biscuit. I would have gobbled it up by now, but a Certain Someone insists on doling it out in little bits each day. Maybe you could have a talk with her…..?

The Dog Toy from Hell

The spiffy new puzzle you got me also gets me treats. Except it’s a little hard for me. It’s not that I’m a dope, Grandma! You see, my mouth just isn’t big enough to lift off the lids the way you’re supposed to. I try and try, because I know that a yummy treat’s inside.

And I’m resourceful, Grandma. I am! I knock it around and bang it with my paws until a lid pops open. Sometimes I make so much noise I can hardly hear the big folks screaming at me to stop it already. So Grandma, once again,your plan worked! You present is driving those guys nuts and it’s getting me more treats than before. I love you, Grandma!

Your very smart grandpug,


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Pablo Is Learning ASL

For the past month I’ve been taking a continuing-ed class in American Sign Language (ASL). I’m writing a book on the subject for a client so I thought it would be useful if I could learn some basic signs. And it has helped. Enormously. If nothing else, I’ve discovered how hard it is to contort my hands into different shapes, not to mention memorizing the manual alphabet and all the many signs.

To reinforce what I’m learning, I decided to teach Pablo some simple signs. BTW, teaching dogs ASL is not unheard of. A few breeds, such as Dalmatians, are genetically prone to deafness and older dogs can become deaf as well. The first sign I taught Pablo is SIT, which I fingerspell. SIT has its own sign, of course, but fingerspelling seems to work better with Pablo.

After a few tries, Pablo caught on–and here’s the amazing part, he’ll sit even when I don’t have food! He doesn’t do that when I give him the verbal command–just looks at me as if he’s thinking “What’s in it for me?” I wish I had known ASL when he was a pup. Think of all the commands he would know by now!



Filed under Canine intelligence, health, pugs

Animal Smarts


Watched the Nova scienceNOW episode on animal intelligence on PBS last Wednesday and it was pretty good. The hour-long show featured dogs, dolphins, octopuses, and Alex, an African parrot. The highlight of the dog section was a border collie named Chaser. What an amazing dog! As mentioned previously in this blog, Chaser knows the names of more than 1,000 of her toys. In the special, she is told to fetch a specific toy from a bunch hidden behind a couch. Off she trots and time after time she brings back the correct one. Then comes the show stopper. A toy that she has never seen before (a plush figure of Darwin–clever!) is placed in the pile. Chaser is instructed to fetch Darwin, an unfamiliar name. Can she do it? It’s obvious the dog is befuddled. She noses around the pile of toys. All but one are familiar. Will she be be able to infer that the one toy whose name she doesn’t know must be Darwin? She’s called back and again told to find Darwin. This time, success! She grabs Darwin and bring the toy back to lavish praise.

While these feats of canine intelligence were being portrayed on the screen, Pablo snored by my side, unimpressed. Chaser was doing all this work and not getting treats? Pablo was having none of it!

My second favorite section was the one on octopuses. I’ve always found cephalopods to be fascinating creatures, the way they jet around, instantly camouflage themselves, and escape from predators in a blast of inky smoke. In this section viewers were introduced to Ruby, an octopus able to problem solve. In his home at the Biomes Marine Center in North Kingstown, Ruby was given a jar with a twist-on lid. Inside was a delectable shrimp. Not shown how to open the jar, the mollusk sometimes tightened it instead. Through trial and error, Ruby learned how to consistently open the lid and retrieve his snack. Sadly, Ruby died a year ago. His memory lives on.


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And Thereby Hangs a Tail

And the longer it is, the better. At least according to a recent study entitled “Behavioral responses of Canis familiaris to different tail lengths of a remotely-controlled life-size dog replica.”

Say what????

In simple terms, does the length of a dog’s tail matter to other dogs? Sorry, Pablo. The answer is yes.

In the study, 500 dogs were videotaped as they approached a robot dog with either a short tail or a long one. Sometimes the tail was wagging and sometimes it was still. The results? A wagging long tail won out. Dogs were more likely to approach this robot without hesitation than a robot with a short tail, whether wagging or still. The researchers concluded that dogs find it easier to understand what a tail is saying (one way dogs communicate is through their tails) when the tail is long. Dogs with short, curled, or docked tails have a harder time getting their messages across.

Read more about the story in this blog post by Bark magazine, while I go and console Pablo.

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