Life in the Big Empty continues (thank god). Probably the biggest news is that Bear is learning language. No, she can’t talk. I haven’t gone off the deep end (still splashing around in the shallow end), but if you remember the TV show, Lassie, you know what I mean. The head thing Lassie did, like, “What is it Lassie? Oh no! Little Timmy’s fallen down the well?” Lassie could say all that just with her head. Bear’s getting there, and it’s a new thing.
Livestock Guardian dogs don’t normally live “with” people like Bear does. They do their thing, people do their thing and life is good. Bear, obviously, lives WITH her human. So does Teddy, a vastly different kind of dog, a naturally communicative kind of dog. Australian shepherds respond to whistles, words, gestures, even lights. They are (unless they are on a mission to chase sheep or smells) determined to communicate with their humans and to hear what their humans have to say. After three years of living with Teddy, Bear’s starting to get it. First, it was cookies. Bear began to gesture with her head toward the counter where the cookies are. I was stunned, and, at first, didn’t believe it, but that’s what she was doing.
Then, walks. I call Teddy to take a walk by saying, “C’mon, Teddy. Let’s put your coat on.” The coat is whatever tool I’m using to make it easier for me to walk him. Right now it’s a martingale collar. He then goes running out to the garage, comes back a couple of times to see if I mean it and to make sure I have MY coat on.
Until the last couple of days Bear really didn’t get what was going on, and she didn’t get to go because I couldn’t catch her. I figured she didn’t want to come along which was fine. She’s a free dog. It seems that, suddenly, it all had meaning to her, and she runs out to the garage, too. Yesterday she reached a new communication level. I was standing by the front door. I had just brought in the mail. Bear was in the kitchen. She looked at me and moved her head toward the back door.
“Huh?” I thought. Did she really DO that?
“Bear,” I said, “did you just do this?” and I mimicked her. She watched me and did it again. “Whoa,” I thought, “that’s Australian Shepherd behavior.” I thought about it some more and realized that in a lot of ways Bear has become more visually acute. If I wave at her, she wags her tail. If I cock my head and smile, she comes to me. This is all new stuff.
I honestly didn’t want to go for a walk, but now I had to. I called Teddy to come and get his coat on. Bear ran outside. I was curious to see what she’d do, so I grabbed her leash. Would she? Sure enough, she followed Teddy out to the garage, then came to me to get her leash. A complete sentence and new behavior for my 7 year old dog.
Akbash dogs are described in most breed descriptions as not being particularly intelligent dogs. I have taken issue with that since I got Bear. The first night she lived here, she was ready to guard. She let me know in no uncertain terms that her place was with my other dogs, not in a crate. What’s a smart dog, anyway?
This good article on the subject of dog intelligence explains that dog intelligence measurement is related to how obedient to humans the dogs are. Aussies are not in the top ten, but the fourth level. Walking Teddy on a leash after doing substantial obedience work with him proves THAT. Dogs like Bear? The bottom, along with my favorite breed, Siberian Huskies.
I think as far as these breed descriptions go, a smart dog is a dog that behaves in a way humans “get,” that can be easily trained to do things humans want them to do whether it’s tricks or working animals. Livestock guardian dogs don’t “work” animals, per se. They live with, care for, and protect animals of different species. They are independent thinkers and very reliable, qualities which are not, apparently, “smart.” Recently a local rescue took in a dog that “failed” at herding. He is an Australian shepherd/Pyrenees mix. Pyrenees are, like Bear, livestock guardian dogs. I really wanted that guy, but I know myself. I’m not a three dog woman any more. He was given up because he had no herding instinct, but he was happy to take care of the chickens. I don’t know who his owner was, but it made me think about the dog intelligence thing. I get that a guy with sheep needs a herding dog, not a dog who takes care of chickens, and the dog now has good owners.
Teddy has been watching me for the past 20 minutes as I drank my coffee, waiting for a particular head movement that will tell him that I’m finished with my coffee and about to set the cup on the floor for him. If I have rawhides in my back pocket, and he wants one, he’ll push the pocket with his nose or, if he REALLY wants one he’ll try to take one out. Bear simply waits. Which dog is smarter? I think a seven year old dog who figures things out on her own and improves her ability to communicate with a human is pretty smart. And what’s that intelligence thing, anyway? It’s like humans. We all have varying styles of intelligence, combinations and missing parts. I have almost NO aural learning ability, but I can paint.
So what was our walk like? Shorter than usual, but I have to say that the Refuge has a strange power over me, a good power. I can go out there in any messed up state of mind and soon? Its quiet beauty, solitude and silence work their magic and I am OK again. We took their favorite walk and I let them both smell everything, Bear on one side of the trail, Teddy on the other. Most of the snow is gone, but there was enough for Bear to roll in a couple of times.
A while back I wrote a post that said everything I had to say about Caramels. I can’t do better or even other — here it is.