Belfast Telegraph

No, I’m not barking...my dog really is so intelligent

By Frances Burscough

Whoever said that dogs don’t think, hadn’t met my Bailey.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out my dog has a higher IQ than me. Although we don’t actually speak the same language, he clearly understands the meaning of more than a hundred words or commands.

Now, I think that in itself is impressive but, as Pavlov the 19th century scientist tried to prove, animal understanding is a combined result of instinct and association. He conducted a study of hungry hounds and found that if a bell rang each time they were fed, they soon started to salivate automatically on the sound of a bell. But I’m convinced my dog wouldn’t fall for that. He’s far too long in the fang.

If Bailey had been there, he’d bypass the bell altogether and orchestrate a covert raid on Pavlov’s entire pantry before he’d even arrived in the laboratory on day one of Operation Salivation.

Yes, my dog is that clever. And in the complex analysis of human body language and behavioural interpretation he really is second to none. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say he’s far more observant and astute than any man I’ve ever lived with. He could definitely teach Pavlov and his drooling dogs a thing or two. And a couple of my exes.

I’ll give you one typical example.

At approximately 6.30pm every day, Bailey lies on the floor in front of me, intently staring at my feet. He knows what time it is, not because of the position of the moon or the sun or any natural instinct, but because the kids have just had their tea, I’ve just had a cup of coffee and — most importantly — the BBC news has just finished and the familiar theme is playing in the background. As soon as the recorded tune strikes up, he takes up his position and lies in wait ...

He has learnt from years of habit and routine that this is optimum “walkies” time. He also knows while I’m in the house or working at home I have bare feet or wear slippers. As soon as I stand up and make my way to the sock drawer (after the news but before homework) excitement begins to stir, because this is always the first stage of the getting-ready-for-walkies process and thus precursor to the very highlight of his day.

Sometimes I tease him by approaching the sock drawer, opening it and then mock-absentmindedly shutting it again. He usually growls disapproval as if to say “Har-harrr, very funny ... NOT! Now stop arseing around and let’s WALK!”

Or I get a pair out, wave them around a bit for him to see and then drop them on the floor and watch his reaction. He pounces on them immediately and brings them over to me, attempting to apply them to my bare feet with a comically clumsy paw-snout-sock-foot manoeuvre while I sit on the bed laughing, knowing that it’s only the absence of fingers and thumbs and not any wit or wherewithal that stops him from managing it with speed and aplomb.

Then we have what I jokingly call Boot Camp. Bailey knows that I always wear the same pair of boots on walks and certainly won’t leave the house without them. But as part of our daily caper, I always hide the boots for him to seek out and find. Under the bed, in a chest, behind the curtains, that sort of thing. This is always hilarious because by this stage he’s yelping with sheer delight on the hunt and then barks jubilantly when he finds them. By the time it comes to me zipping up the boots he’s almost apoplectic with excitement.

Next, he runs to the door waiting for me to open up and unleash the hounds. But instead of bolting out like a schoolkid at playtime, he always looks up and checks the sky for clouds. And, after all that fuss, if there’s even a hint of rain he won’t budge an inch.

Bailey knows that if it rains he gets wet. If he gets wet, I fetch a towel. If I fetch a towel I bring a comb. And if I bring a comb he gets brushed. And he hates being brushed far more than he loves his daily walk.

So you see, whoever said that dogs don’t think, hadn’t met my Bailey ...

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