If my father were alive today, he’d be puzzled to see me with my cell phone. All the years I was growing up, we had a black rotary phone, attached to the wall by a cord. We never had to replace it with the latest, newest, coolest phone. It lasted for decades, making and receiving phone calls. It didn’t take messages or selfies. It didn’t count steps when you walked. It wasn’t also a flashlight. It didn’t translate foreign languages. And you couldn’t play Solitaire on it, even if you wanted to.
My father would not have been surprised to learn that I still love dogs, because I always did, and he wouldn’t have been surprised to see that a I always have my dog with me. Though the ADA made that possible long after he died, I spent much of my childhood with my dog, following along behind him as he ran on the beach, watching him following trail the seabirds left in the sand, seeing him fishing around in the small lagoons the ocean formed where there were rocks. Though no one of any importance thought dogs had any thoughts or feelings all those decades ago, it was clear to me that they, that all animals, did.
I am not a fan of the sort of lists that say which dog is the most intelligent, because dogs were bred to be specialists and judging their smartness means knowing what they were bred to do and how that informs their thinking and their actions, even their personalities. And I don’t like testing a dog or an ape or an anybody with a test that measures things of interest to another species, like, for instance, obedience trials.
Try this test on your dog. Think of all the things you do before you leave the house. Your dog’s list, of course, will be incredibly longer and in addition to your actions, he’s also reading your mind, picking up the pictures you form as you think. But that’s a whole different blog. Now do one of the things you do before leaving: Put on your shoes (if you’re like me, you don’t wear them in the house) or put on sun block, or check to make sure you have your keys, or dog bags, or get your jacket out of the closet, or comb your hair (because who cares what it looks like at home) or shut off the air conditioning and open the windows. So do one of those things and see how your dog reacts. How smart is that!
My father was a scientist, but I know if he were here today, I know that if I told him the things I have learned about dogs, I know he would see the truth of what I told him and that he would not need to test my theories. I know that he would not be surprised that I had wrapped my life around dogs and that I had shared what I knew in books and blogs and seminars and on the phone and in the street and anywhere I could. And I think he’d be happy, because it would all make sense, better sense, at least, than, say, reading a book on a phone, or doing this with one…
I lost my dad when I was nineteen. If only my dad were here to see all this, how great that would be.