Thursday, March 7, 2013

Is My Dog Dumb?

By Langley Cornwell

Of course I’m not asking that question about my dogs; they are perfect. (Ha!). There is a certain dog I’m acquainted with, however, that doesn’t seem to be progressing as quickly as other dogs in a training class we, um, somebody I know is in. This person tells me that her dog is not motivated by treats or affection and is all but impossible to train.

So I went to my most reliable sources – my animal-crazed friends – for feedback about how their dogs stacked up on the intelligence meter.

Heather said her family tried and tried to get their dog, Toby, to roll over on command, but he would just roll over onto his back. She says it was frustrating trying to get him to roll completely over. Finally, thinking he just wasn't going to “get it,” they started rubbing his belly every time he “rolled over” onto his back.

According to Unleash Magazine, Heather’s dog isn’t dumb; her anecdote is an example of “profitable misbehavior.” Dogs do what works for them. For instance, if jumping on you makes you speak to, touch, or even look at your dog, he’s getting a payoff. Jumping on you is getting him the attention he wants. In cases like this, even if you are scolding your dog or pushing him off of you, he’s still getting what he wants: attention. This response can make dogs seem unwilling or unable to learn, but the issue is with the human who is unwittingly reinforcing undesired behavior.

Another reason people may think their dog is dumb is because he does not respond to them, perhaps due to lack of early human interaction. If I was to take a guess, I would say this is the core issue with our dog er, my friend’s dog because the dog spent his first year and a half in the shelter system and likely did not get enough time with humans. If a dog doesn’t experience enough human interaction during his formative years, he hasn’t learned that humans are relevant and that our words and actions should matter to him.

Cherise told me that for the longest time they thought their pooch was dumb. He never came when they called him or stopped what he was doing when they said “no.” They came to believe that he just wasn't eager to please them. I don’t know her dog’s background but maybe his disinterest is due to lack of early human interaction.

Unfulfilled needs may cause people to think their dog is dumb. Dogs have an innate need to play, exercise, bark, chew, and interact with other dogs. If these needs are not met in constructive ways, dogs will find unconstructive ways to fulfill these needs. They may bark inappropriately, chew your shoes or table legs, dig holes in your back yard and behave wildly indoors. Since standard corrections won’t solve the problem, your dog may seem dumb.

It’s also easier to train a dog to do something that is in accordance with his breed tendencies. In other words, it’s easier to train a golden retriever to retrieve than to protect. It’s easier to train a German shepherd to protect than to retrieve. Teaching a retriever to protect is possible but it will take him longer to catch on, and you may start to believe you’re working with a dumb dog.

If you think your dog is dumb, think about his background, age, breed and anything else that can clue you in on the best ways to communicate with him. Once you figure that out, load up on CANIDAE dog treats and commence training. You may be surprised at how smart your dog really is.

I received some other answers to my “dumb dog” question that I think are worth sharing, just for fun.

Kim: My Australian Shepherd ran headfirst into the fence at a full clip. Knocked himself dizzy. Seems he forgot to apply his brakes before trying to “herd” the nearby joggers.

Karen: We have a great watchdog, and I know when he barks it is a big deal. One day I noticed he was barking at the ground. Since he found a snake recently, I went to investigate. This time he found a cricket and was barking like the cricket was going to eat him.

Laurie: Not so much “dumb” as perhaps blind. Our 80lb. Rotti/lab mix was enjoying a lovely morning walk at the park when her hackles went up, deep growling ensued followed by ferocious barking. My husband and I quickly realized she was protecting us from a tree stump! What a good dog!

Mary Mac: During Hurricane Hugo, I had two dogs that slept through the storm, but when there was no power the next night they stayed up all night barking at dry leaves blowing across the driveway.

Jaipi: Our dog barks at blowing leaves. Then she runs away from them. Then she comes and gets me to show them to me. I'm not sure what she expects me to do about it, but clearly, she wants those leaves gone.

Beaucee: We were staying at a vacation house that had sliding glass patio doors, something we didn't have at our house. We had the screen portion pulled shut, and sure enough, Tundra walked right into it, thinking she could walk out onto the deck. We snickered softly, not wanting to embarrass her. Of course her “daddy” did the same thing the next day.

Crystal: My dog seems a little dumb at times. Okay... he seems a lot dumb! I've offered treats, and he has tried to eat them with a toy in his mouth. He will sniff the treat on the floor, and it’s obvious he’s trying to figure out how he is going to eat it. Finally, he puts the toy down to eat the treat.

Gayle: Our dog lives to play fetch. One day he was really into it. I threw. He returned as fast as he could to drop it in my lap. He returned faster with every throw. Finally I threw it high and long. The dog caught it and came back with lightning speed. He came flying up, touched his nose to my lap and darted off to catch it again. When he realized that the ball was still in his mouth, he tip-toed back and very gingerly dropped it in my lap.

What “dumb thing” does your dog do?

Top photo by Joe Dyer
Bottom photo by Lulu Hoeller

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Oh my! It is not at all "dumb" for a dog to walk into a sliding glass door; they are just believing what their eyes are telling them. When my pups and I visit Grandma and Grandpa, my dad always remembers to tape a piece of paper to the lower part of the glass doors. Otherwise, one of the girls may going flying into and be seriously injured.
    And on the whole, I think my Schnauzers are very smart with a fair amount of common sense...

  2. My Max isn't dumb, he just works diligently on training ME!


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