You think dogs are dumb? Brother, how smart are you? Capable canines talk, multiply, obey orders and live without working
FIDO, ANSWER THAT PHONE!
You think dogs are dumb? Brother, how smart are you? Capable canines talk, multiply, obey orders and live without working
THERE’S AN old joke about a man who used to play chess with his dog every day in a tavern. Passers-by often made appreciative comments about the remarkable intelligence of the dog. Finally the dog’s owner could stand it no longer.
“I don’t think he’s so gosh darned smart,” he shouted. “He’s only beaten me once!”
Well, maybe dogs aren’t as smart as people, but there’s evidence they are a lot smarter than most people think. And as for those shaggy dogs . . . For the benefit of any smart dogs who are
reading this article let it be put on record that there are cases of dogs who have understood 400 words, dogs who have done sums, and dogs who can talk. Dogs can have nervous breakdowns just like humans, too. And if you think your dog smells— you’re right. He can detect odors you never knew existed.
Trouble is, most dogs don’t get a chance to show how smart they are. Dogs don’t go to school and most people don’t bother to teach them anything. But suppose you did try to teach a smart dog new tricks? That’s exactly what Jacob Herljert, of Detroit, a smart man with a smart dog, decided to do. His experiment made canine history.
Herbert’s dog was a bright German Shepherd
puppy named Fellow. Herl>ert decided to educate him scientifically. In whatever direction the dog showed a capacity to learn, his master patiently instructed him. It got so that Fellow was treated like a junior member of the family and was talked to much as one would talk to a developing child.
When Fellow was five years old he could do almost anything but talk. He had acquired a vocabulary of 400 words that he knew and apparently understood. He could carry out the most intricate and complex instructions, provided they were given him in simple language.
Herbert took him to Columbia University, where, before Professor C. J. Warden and a class of 75 psychology students, he passed an examination on 400 words, and proved to the satisfaction of the most critical spectators that he understood them.
During the test, which lasted a full hour, Fellow obeyed one complex command after another.
“Go to that third table and look out, then step back and put your feet on the radiator,” his owner would say, or “Go to that lady in the last row and put your head on her lap,” or “Pick up those gloves from the desk and take them to that gentleman in the corner.”
To demonstrate that the dog actually understood the meanings of the words and was not responding to gestures or any other vision clues, his owner went behind a screen and issued commands to the dog as directed by Professor Warden and Professor Lucien Warner.
Fellow passed this acid test with honors. When the examination was finished both spectators and Columbia professors admitted that the dog’s performance more than justified his owner’s claims. Quite a fellow, that Fellow.
Then there’s the case of Hector, the canine Einstein, the dog who always knew that two and two make four. HLs owner was an Arizona mining engineer named C. J. Tryon. Hector was a French poodle who not only was able to master the meaning of words quickly but also responded with alacrity when his master began to teach him about numbers.
Encouraged, Tryon gave him patient instruction in the most elemental arithmetic, in much the same way you’d teach a small child. At first progress was pretty slow, but little by little Hector began to master the rudiments of addition.
The dog was taught to use a small contact key which rang an electric bell. When his master asked him, say, the sum of two numbers, such as 6 and 5, the dog would ring the bell 11 times.
When Hector began to get his sums right, he progressed to subtraction and multiplication, until finally he could be given almost any problem in simple arithmetic and come up with the right answer nine times out of 10.
It’s Telepathy, They Said
When word of the dog’s ability came to the attention of the editors of The Scientific American, Tryon was invited to bring his dog before a sceptical board.
The performance began when Tryon, standing 20 fee* away with his back to the dog, asked him what three times seven was. Hector grunted a couple of times, then tapped out 21 on his electrical bell.
Out of scores of questions asked him. Hector made very few wrong answers; these took the form of one or two extra taps on the bell. The investigators conceded that there could be no possibility
of fraud or deception, but, despite the evidence, they still had difficulty in convincing themselves that a dog could actually do arithmetic.
“It is hard to conceive,” they said in the journal’s formal report of the investigation, “of a dog actually doing those sums in his head. Possibly the canine gets his clues by thought transference. It must be mental telepathy of some kind.”
The point the science editors raised would be pretty hard to prove or disprove. Nevertheless, Hector and his master weren’t miffed because they quibbled over certifying the pooch as an accountant. Okay—so Hector was a mind reader—not a mathematician. After all, it’s supposed to be even more of a feat to read people’s minds than to add up a column of figures.
Tryon refused to elaborate on the method used in tutoring the dog, except to say that he taught him patiently and repeatedly in much the same way that you would teach a small child.
Dogs like Fellow and Hector are rare. But few dogs ever receive anything approaching the real understanding and sympathetic tutoring necessary to develop and channel their intelligence. Most dogs lead a dog’s life.
The average dog is fed, petted occasionally, given a place to sleep. Maybe he’s trained to hunt, act as a baby sitter, or bring in the evening paper. Any accomplishments much beyond these are regarded as sensational.
That a dog may possess real mental ability seldom occurs to most people. He is generally regarded as a lovable, faithful creature, with a kind of instinctive astuteness, and a strong desire to please his master.
Yet the newspapers are full of stories of dogs who’ve acted like smart human beings in a crisis. Take the dog who saved little Jimmie Stevens’ life in northern Arizona last winter. Jimmie got lost in the snowbound mountain wilderness. The dog saved him from freezing to death by digging a cave and pulling the tiny t.wo-and-a-half-yearold tot into it. Then he fought off marauding coyotes.
Those Dogs Smell Wonderfully
We’ve all read of seeing-eye dogs. Now they’ve got seeing-eye dogs for dogs. A Chicago sportsman has trained his little dachshund Sascha to guide his blind five-year-old collie, Silver. He taughtSascha how todo it by linking the two dogs together by rope, the dachs| bund in the lead. Now Sascha guides her blind charge through the streets j without the rope.
Incidentally, a dog’s vision is less acute than his other senses and more subject to deterioration. The retina of the eye is poorly developed and the blind areas are numerous. Dogs are farsighted, have difficulty with detail. While a dog can perceive the movement of an object as quickly as we do, they do not see it very distinctly.
Apart from vision, however, a dog’s sensory perception is infinitely superior to that of a human. His sense of touch is far more sensitive, and his hearing is so many times more acute than ours that there is no basis for comparison.
It is the dog’s sense of smell, however, that is really extraordinary. He j can detect an odor which human beings i would never know existed, except that j it can also be detected by extremely ? delicate instruments. Emotions, such as fear and anger, cause a definite chemical reaction in our bodies. Scientific instruments can measure this, but a dog can : smell it! That’s why a dog can tell instantly when a man is afraid of him, or when he likes him.
Columbia’s Professor Warden describes a laboratory test conducted to determine just how sensitive a dog’s sense of smell can be. The floor of a small room was lined with metal plates. Every other plate was charged with enough electricity to give a slight shock. Then a dog was led into the room. He walked around, sniffing carefully, and consistently avoided stepping on the charged plates. The experiment was repeated, but at no time could the dog be induced to step where he could receive a shock. The dog’s nostrils could detect the microscopic amount of ozone given off by the electrically charged plates.
And They Get the Jitters
Dogs have human personalities, too. They get mad or melancholic, have nervous breakdowns, get bored—just like people. Pavlov, a Russian scientist who spent 60 years going to the dogs for experimental data, has proved this. Pie put dogs’ personalities into four human categories:
1. Choleric and quick-tempered. (This dog will fly into a rage at the slightest provocation.)
2. Placid and phlegmatic. (He won’t wince even under gunfire.)
3. Sanguine, capable of quick adjustment to existing conditions. (A very well-balanced dog, mentally and emotionally.)
4. Melancholic and overinhibited. (This type of dog cannot adjust to stress and strain; instead he’ll lapse into deep depression.)
Dogs are also subject to the same mental and emotional disorders that we are. Psychiatrist W. Horsley Gantt studied dogs for four years with Pavlov in Moscow, and also at Johns Hopkins University. His studies indicate that there are proportionately about as many neurotic dogs as there are maladjusted people. And as is the case in humans, what caused one dog to suffer a nervous breakdown often had not the slightest ill effect on another.
Gantt describes the typical symptoms of a pooch with a nervous breakdown: “There is palpitation, fear,
trembling, difficulty in breathing, headache, irritability, and chest oppression.”
At Cornell University, Dr. O. D. Anderson and Dr. Arthur V. Jensen studied 13 dogs who either suffered a nervous breakdown or were on the verge of it. Their findings: dogs in this condition show intense nervousness and fear at the sound of loud noises— the banging of a door, firearms, thunder, and so on. This fear also extended to strange objects and people. Some of the neurotic dogs tended to shy away from people completely, others showed an abnormal craving for attention and wanted to be continually petted.
How can you tell if your dog’s nerves are shot? Study shows that one sign is an absence of normal curiosity. Introduce a normal dog to a strange room and he wants to sniff. He sniffs at everything—table legs, old magazines, people and other dogs. But a dog with a case of nerves will crouch in one place moodily. Not a sniff.
Another clue: when dogs whose
nerves are cracking up have pulse rates of from 150 to 200 beats a minute, as compared to the normal dog’s 60 to 90 beats.
You Gotta Use Phonetics
Now we come to dogs that talk. Yes, I said talk.
British physicist Sir Richard Paget has published a full report of a Boston terrier who has been taught to talk, but most talking dogs investigated by authorities have had no instruction whatever. They just picked it up on their own.
Dr. Martin F. Palmer, president of the American Speech Correction Association and head of the Institute of Logopedics (that $5 word means “the study of speech defects”), recently announced that soon smart dogs will be carrying on limited conversations with their masters. Research at his institute has shown that dogs may be taught to enunciate simple words and to speak short phrases.
Palmer states that the method for teaching a dog to talk is almost identical with that used to correct defective speech in children. But, speech experts point out, the dog’s training in phonetics will not only require extreme patience but must be given by someone who has a thorough knowledge of speech mechanisms.
One of the best-known talking dogs is Ben, a smooth-haired fox terrier, of Hertfordshire, England. Ben first startled Britons a year or so ago when his nattering disrupted a villager’s afternoon tea. Alfred Brissenden, a night watchman, was about to pass the biscuits at teatime when he and his wife were startled to hear his dog Ben say distinctly, “I want one.”
Doubting their sense the couple called in other villagers. They also heard Ben’s request. (He got a biscuit —forgot to say “thank you.”)
The word spread all over England and by the end of the day people were flocking from miles around. Newspapermen from London subjected the dog to critical examination and quickly scotched a rumor that Brissenden was a ventriloquist.
Finally Dr. W. R. Wooldridge, one of Britain’s foremost veterinarians, paid a sceptical visit. The dog made up for his limited vocabulary by repeating it over and over until Wooldridge went home convinced.
Not long ago, a four-year-old
shepherd dog named Sam, who belongs to Edward Nowy of Chicago, dropped in at the fire station at Cicero, 111., and asked for a drink of water.
After the startled firemen had given him a quencher, he looked significantly at the front door, said “I want out,” and high-tailed it for home.
The first time this happened the boys were too astonished to do much more than gape at Sam, but subsequently they made friends with both the dog and his master. Now Sam drops in every so often for a brief chat and a piece of liver sausage.
Liver sausage is Sam’s favorite dish and when it’s offered to him his reaction is invariably the same—he sits up on his hind legs and says “I want it.”
Assistant Fire Chief Joseph David told interviewers that “the dog controls his bark so that it comes out like words. And the words are just as distinct as though uttered by a human.”
How had Sam learned to talk? His master’s daughter, Jeanne Nowy, did the trick. Jeanne was a tutor in speech defects at an Illinois institution. In her spare time she taught Sam, as a pup, how to raise his voice to a higher pitch.
She used a piece of liver sausage as a reward and pretty soon, Sam, who was no fool, began to live like a king simply by blurting a few simple words.
Most Mutts Keep Mum
Ben, Britain’s talking dog, had learned by what is essentially the method used by the Berlitz School of Languages: he’d imitated sounds he heard someone make in connection with a certain action.
There have been talking dogs reported in many other parts of the world. Some cases have been verified, others have not. But canines who can utter even the simplest phrases are rare.
There are, of course, scientific experts who are inclined to view all evidences of doggy intelligence with scepticism. Professor George H. Eslabrooks, head of the psychology department at Colgate University, does not believe dogs can be scientifically regarded as thinking animals.
“Perhaps,” says Estabrooks, “the dog does use past experience to solve new situations. Perhaps he may understand words or symbols. But his abilities here are so inferior to those of the human that we are almost entitled to say, for all practical purposes, that your dog is a nonthinking animal.”
Other authorities doubt that even the most intelligent dogs recognize words in the sense that a human being does, but feel rather that they respond to sounds, or merely tones and inflections of the voice.
Dogdom’s detractors notwithstanding, it remains to be seen just to what extent a dog’s many abilities and aptitudes can be developed. And, hey, if your dog could do arithmetic, understand several hundred words, and talk, think what a help he’d be working out your income tax or answering the phone. ★
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.