Persons who know me well, or read this column, will know of my admiration and affection for dogs, particularly in the years when I lived in the Cayman Islands on two acres of land in the countryside, with several dogs in the family. Living again in Guyana, and remarried, I have spoken before of the dogs Annette and I have here and how important they are in our lives.
Against that background, I was quite shocked this week to see someone blatantly posting a note on Face-book saying succinctly “Dogs are dumb.” My initial thought was to reply to the person, but I realised that would take considerably more space than a FB reply allows, so I’m going this route instead.
Fundamentally, whoever says “dogs are dumb” is clearly someone who knows nothing about dogs, or has not spent any amount of time with them anywhere. Dogs, indeed, widely known to be “man’s best friend,” are easily the most interactive creatures with us in the animal kingdom and develop powerful links with the people who own them as pets. They become very attached to us, are often exuberant in their affection, and once they form a bond with us, nothing breaks it. Even if the circumstances of our lives separate us from them for any extended time, they recognise us instantly on our return and show their joy almost in a frenzy.
Time and again, even a casual encounter with dogs will demonstrate how smart they are and how determined to show their love for us. In my time in Cayman, I was out in town during the day from 7 am to 3 pm and the dogs would be out roaming the yard, but once the sun was out they would station themselves at the front gate, in the late afternoon to greet me when I drove in. No one sent them there, and I didn’t come home bringing them treats, but every day as I approached the house, I could see them inside the gate, or behind the fence, waiting patiently (trust me, they had no clock) and they would follow my van as I drove in, all the way to the house. One of the dogs was Corgi, a half-breed I had acquired from the Animal Shelter, and the other one was what we call a “ricey” in Guyana, a local dog of very mixed breed but an energetic handsome dude, with the air of a prince, so I had promptly named him Baron. Our helper told me that even when I went away on a Tradewinds trip, the dogs would show up at the gate every afternoon in their vigil, and when I eventually returned to the island, although Corgi would approach the gate tentatively, Baron would come charging up, full speed, swoop right past me and take off back into the yard – it was a big property – run the entire perimeter, then come roaring back to the gate, swooping by me again for another circuit. He would show that excitement a couple times before finally settling down; Corgi, meanwhile, looking on in amazement. Dogs, I keep saying, are the best.
While I lived in Toronto, among the many Tradewinds fans was a Canadian businessman, Dick Hetherington, who lived in Kingston, Ontario, in a big house near the St. Lawrence River and we became friends. I would visit him from to time and he had one particular dog, Bounce, a big German Shepherd, with this astonishing habit: if Dick was home, when the phone rang, Bounce would trot over to the table it was on, pick up the receiver in his mouth, and bring it over to Dick. I assumed Dick must have trained him to do that, using the reward method, but it was totally automatic – phone rang, Bounce would be off, grab it from the cradle and bring it to the boss. Okay, dogs may have their odours, and may shed, but they’re sharp as a tack.
In Oleander Gardens, where I live now, Annette and I have two dogs – a German Shepherd Choo (she chewed everything in sight as a pup) and a Belgian Shepherd Jet, for her jet-black coat and her jet-plane speed. Choo, going on 11 years now, is mostly laid back; Jet is, well, a jet. They both know several words – “come; no; lie down; stay; upstairs; inside;” etc. Your dogs become attached to you; they watch your every move, and ours both love to go for a drive. Jet knows that when I pick up the car keys behind the door that I’m going on the road; she bolts outside ahead of me and is waiting by the van when I get there. If you don’t give her an instant “no drive,” she’s prancing to get in the van. If I let her in the van, I tell her “back,” once, and she moves to the back seat leaving the right-side front seat vacant for Choo. When night comes to the house, you say “upstairs” and they’re both off; when you switch off the hall light, they know it’s bedtime, and they head for their sleeping spots on the balcony without a word from anyone. Dumb? Not dogs.
I must also tell you of a friend of mine in Cayman who had trained his dog, on hearing the word “beer,” to go to the fridge, pull on the towel on the door handle to open the door, then grab a bottle of beer and bring it over to the master, who would then give him a sip. Out of the blue, the man would say “beer” and the dog was off like a shot; try getting your cat or your horse or your parrot to do that.
One more bit: two days after I saw the “dogs are dumb” comment, there was a video online of a man in the Philippines, riding a motorcycle with four grown dogs – two behind him, sharing the pillion; one in front of him, on the gas tank, and one partly on the tank and partly on the motorcycle handle – the five of them going down the road, all under control, smooth as silk; this is how you do it. I watched it, honestly, almost doubting what I was seeing. Dumb? Dogs? No sir.