According to a recent article in the journal Learning and Behavior, while dogs are certainly intelligent, they are not inherently smarter than other animals. After reviewing hundreds of studies on animal cognition, the authors found that other animals, such as cats or pigeons, met or surpassed the abilities of dogs.
I beg to differ. There are many different types of intelligences and these researchers are missing the intelligence that our best friends have in abundance: the ability to grift. I’ve known some marvelous canine con artists over the years and even though the evidence presented below is empirical, I defy the reader to doubt the dog’s high intelligence afterward.
Case #1: Niner, a black lab/border collie mix was able to pick out from his toybox the particular toy we asked him to bring us. While noteworthy, it’s not particularly impressive as he only had about fifteen toys. In contrast, a border collie named Chaser can differentiate between 1,000 toys. But Niner’s special gift was being a consummate pickpocket. Lawn guys, plumbers, repairmen, all of them were astonished to see Niner holding their pencil or even their wallet in his soft mouth after he had gently pried the booty out of their pants back pockets. Interestingly, while surprised, none were ever angry, probably because of Niner’s hypnotic chocolate eyes. All I know is that if he had been human, he’d have taken over the world. And we’d all have loved it.
Case #2: In point of contrast, our current black lab, Molly, is less a persuader, more a bulldozer. There is nothing subtle about her. No soft mouth. A tail that can decimate the knickknacks sitting on a coffee table in one swoop. But it’s her incessant bark that likens her to an enforcer in a crime ring. Instead of breaking legs, she barks to get her way. When her mealtimes roll around, she will bark non-stop until fed. But it doesn’t end there. After she finishes her meal, it’s time to bark at me to start cooking the family dinner. Then a few hours after dinner, she begins her next round of barking, so that I’ll return to the kitchen for clean-up, all in the hope that I’ll throw her a crust of bread or a stray Brussel sprout left on a plate. Remember when Taco Bell tried that “fourth meal” marketing campaign? They should have used Molly in their ads. I’m sure her bullying would have made it a success.
Case #3: Our Irish Setter, Dellie was adopted by our family after three other families returned her to the shelter. She was a wonderful dog and we had no regrets owning her, but she was a petty thief of food (the most annoying being a steak and some rum balls) as well as a vagrant (sleeping on the family room couch whenever she could). But she was also entertaining when trying to con us into believing her worth as the family protector. Recognizing the sound of our car as we drove down the street, she’d arise, turn toward the nearby trees and begin to bark at the squirrels in them, occasionally looking back at us in the car with an expression that translated to, “see, I’m earning my keep.”
Case #4: I save the most amazing story for last. Our relatives had a shepherd mix named Vega. An absolutely sweet dog but not considered terribly bright until this incident occurred. My relatives returned home, after a few hours of running errands, to discover that Vega had defecated in the shower (how they knew it was Vega and not their other dog is too long to explain). After the discovery, they let the dogs out into the backyard. Vega walked over to a spot on the lawn where an old turd lay, stood over it, and PRETENDED TO POOP THAT TURD as though to prove that he hadn’t pooped out the turd in the shower. Now that is Evil Genius kind of stuff!
So, until I hear about other animals trying to perform cons like this, I submit that dogs are the smartest animals of all time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few Beagles to recruit for my new criminal enterprise.