SNIFF NOTES: Dogs: Smarter Than You Think


For people who tell their dogs about their problems because the canines are often better listeners than humans, they might be a lot closer to the truth than any of us ever thought.

I’ve talked to a lot of people recently who wholeheartedly believe their dog understands what they’re saying.

My mom has always claimed that the dogs she had knew what certain words meant. She claimed they understood “go outside” and “go for a ride.”

Mom also claimed they knew when she told them that I was coming to visit. She said they would look to the front door if she asked them, “Is Jenny here yet?”

Keep in mind, this was only true for some of her dogs. She had some Shih Tzus who would do only what they wanted and in their own timeframe. You could talk until you were blue in the face, but dear Trudy wasn’t going to do anything she didn’t want to do.

So whether they understood the words could be up for debate.

I’ll never forget the study done years ago in Germany with a border collie named Rico. Researchers believe Rico understood more than 200 words.

Rico had the ability to fetch toys. Specific toys. People would tell Rico which toy they wanted and he would not only bring the right one, he would pick the one you asked for out of a pile of other toys. You could say, “get the yellow banana” and he would bring back the yellow banana.

I think that dog’s smarter than I was when I was a toddler. Seriously.

In fact, Rico even had the ability to search out a new toy. He had enough intelligence to recognize a new word and connect it to the new toy. Amazing. Even a month after the first test, he could bring the new toy back three out of six times, which researchers say is about the equivalent of a 3-year-old. See? Smarter than me as a toddler.

Sometimes, dogs can actually prove to be wiser than people. One lady owned a Jack Russell Terrier that had a better memory than she did. When she’d go shopping, she always brought home toys for her girl. Eventually the dog began to recognize which toy was which. One day, she brought home a duck and said to her pup, “Go get duck-duck.”

When her little girl ran downstairs – the opposite direction of the new toy – Mom though she had her. The kicker is the Jack Russell came up the stairs with a toy from a long time ago that Mom had named “duck-duck.” The dog remembered the name of the old toy, where mom didn’t.

Sometimes animals can really surprise you.

I’ve heard people say to me for years, “You know dogs aren’t dumb. They know who loves them and can learn more than we think.”

Never a truer word has been spoken.

Now, I will tell you, we’ve had canines at this shelter who seem, I’m sorry to say, dumber than a box of rocks. I’ve taken some with me to various places who actually try to go out the wrong side of the door. You know the one with the hinges and all? Yeah, they’ll shove their nose into the crack of the door – even as the other side is opening – and try to squeeze out past the hinges.

I typically say, “Um, sweetheart, the door opens the other way.”

They eventually figure it out, but I’m left shaking my head.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every single dog on this planet is different. Different personality, different likes and dislikes, different intelligence level. Some are sweet, some not-so-much. Some seem smarter than we are, some can’t figure out which side of the door to go out.

But they are all equally worthy of our love and devotion.

For those of you who tell people your dog understands words and sometimes get the “you must be out of your mind look,” reference this column and the studies that have been done.

‘Cause you aren’t wrong. A lot of dogs can be smarter than you think.


Jennifer Vanderau is the Publications and Promotions Consultant for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and can be reached at [email protected]. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at 263-5791 or visit the website CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.

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