Years ago, when I was writing the Rachel and Dash mysteries, I attended at a Private Eye Writers convention in St. Louis with my first service dog, Dexter.
On the third day of the convention, someone came up to me to tell me that Dexter was the best trained dog she’d ever seen. I thanked her for her kind remark and then told her that I hadn’t asked him to do anything since I’d left home. I hadn’t told him how to behave in the airport or where to lie down on the plane. I hadn’t told him to kiss everyone who came to talk to us to make them think I was a great writer. I hadn’t told him what to do when I was on a panel or how to behave at meals. Dexter made his own decisions and this was fine with me because he always made appropriate ones. He was the smartest dog I ever met about being a dog. He knew how to get along with others, humans he didn’t know and dogs who were too fearful to even look at him. The first time he walked into a hotel, he stopped in the lobby, glanced around and had the whole thing down cold. He happily moved from hotel to hotel with me on book tour, schmoozed up the audiences to help sell books and even did some tricks on TV when we were in Phoenix and discovered that the host of the show had not read my book and had no idea it was a mystery. Dog? Dog tricks! OK, you got it. Smart dog? Smart dog.
Now that my partner is a Border Collie, I hear this just about every day: That’s the smartest breed, isn’t it?
How should I answer?
Should I say, as I sometimes do, it depends what you’re after, that if I were hunting rabbits, I’d sooner take a Beagle along. Or that if I needed to protect some sheep, rather than move them, I’d want an Akbash. Should I say that hybrid vigor makes mixed breed dogs smarter? (Some yes, some no.) Or should I say that what’s really important is that you can work with your dog in a way that increases his intelligence, that takes him from wherever he is and helps him to learn language, solve problems, crack jokes, understand and be understood. Should I say that if it’s the Tibetan Terrier or the Lab or the Dachshund or the Newfoundland that makes your heart beat faster, so be it. You can make that dog, the one you love, the one you have, into a smarter, more fun companion.
And, no, you probably don’t want a Border Collie unless you have a real job for her to do.
What’s the smartest breed? All the ones I’ve ever had because when someone asks me how long it took to train my dog, I think, Why stop? Why not show her shapes with my hands and send her to find something to match the shape? Why not make the sound one of her toys makes and send her to find it and make that same sound? Why not satisfy everything a dog needs, mind, body and spirit alike? Why stop at a PhD when you can do post doctoral work?
Of course, when I’m in a rush and someone says, a Border Collie, the smartest breed, I just smile and say, She’s pretty smart. And that’s true, too.