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How to know if you have a smart dog

Updated on July 1, 2013

I am always amazed at what dogs can teach us. Recently I saw a YouTube video of a New Zealand rescue group who were teaching dogs to drive a car to illustrate just how smart dogs are. Driving a car is a great (very large) broad example of how you can teach your dog anything and delivered in a way that would wow a general audience. But in my experience dogs demonstrate everyday how smart they really are. You just have to know what to look for.

You don't have to look far on the internet to find great examples of some clever dogs. Dogs that can identify items that they have never seen before, dogs that (appear) to do maths, dogs who know hundreds of commands... it goes on and on.

New Zealand dogs learn to drive

How it all began...

When I first started teaching one of my dogs, Bailey the Border Collie, two of the many tricks I taught was, Jump Up (Command was "Up") and Go Back (Command was "Back"). I taught these at completely different times during his puppyhood. Jump Up was at about 6 months (to help curb his excessive jumping on people), and Go Back at around 1 year old. Jump Up was supposed to be Stand Up initially, but when I started teaching Stand Up he took the command as to meaning Jump so I stuck with it and eventually changed the command to Jump. (For him to stand up now we use the command "Balance" as Stand Up and Jump turned out to be the same thing).

Bailey could do Jump on command at any time, he could do it with just a voice command (Up) or with hand signals (Outstretched upward facing palm). But when I started teaching Go Back I learned that he was able to join to commands together and deduce a new result!

Early on in the training of Go Back I had forgotten which verbal cue I was using "Was it Back, Go Back or Back Up?" I couldn't remember. So I tried them each. Back, well that worked fine, he walked back. Go Back, again worked fine. But then I tried Back Up, the command I had never used before, he did nothing (initially) just looked at me with his look of "I know you want me to do something, I just haven't figured it out yet". So I waited 2 or 3 seconds, repeated the command, to see what his response would be. And he responded with...


That, I had never taught him. And yet Back plus Up would obviously equal a backwards jump. I was floored at how he had only taken two to three seconds and deduced enough meaning to create a response he hadn't performed before. Stunned, I tried again "Back Up" and surely a very happy Bailey did another backwards bunny hop.

What did I do?

So after I picked myself up off the floor, I captured this behaviour and called it, you guessed it, "Backwards Bunny Hop". Now you can say Go Back, or Back for him to walk backwards, and "Backwards Bunny Hop" if you want to see him jump backwards. That was the first glimpses I had seen from Bailey showing that he was a highly cognitive dog. And I was so damn proud!

Has your dog ever demonstrated this behaviour?

Has your dog ever created a third behaviour from two known behaviours?

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I'm always amazed!

Dogs are far smarter than we know, and they don't always demonstrate their intelligence on their own. And it's in these glimpses that we learn more and more about what they are capable of achieving, and in that regard I am very fortunate to know a very smart dog.


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