aka Brain, or, Little Grey Cells

Two days ago, I learned that my friend Jeanne, referred to in this blog until now as, ‘Dog Goddess’, the woman who for four solid months helped me in every way with Sawyere (now Soyer), has an incurable, inoperable type of cancer, plus two other kinds.  She starts chemo two days from today.  I want to be with her in any way that she finds helpful, and she’s told us that talking tires her very quickly.  I’ve taken a long break from my blog (I think it’s because I wrote such a feisty, pointed entry about dominance theory training that I scared myself…well, I was scared to read the comments–that’s closer to the truth), but Jeanne has always told me that she reads everything I write, and loves it all, and never gets tired of reading ‘all things dog’.  So it’s time for me to write about dogs again, for Jeanne and for myself.

The other night, when I was at Pet$aver getting chewing treats for the dogs, a woman came in with a small, fluffy lowrider dog named Munchkin, whom she’d recently adopted from the downtown pound.  He was a very friendly, likeable fellow, and I was surprised when she said he was, ‘the dumbest dog’.  Don’t worry–this story doesn’t have a sad ending.  I showed enough concern about what she’d said for her to see where my mind was going, and she told me there was no chance she would ever give the dog back–she keeps ’em ’til death do us part, no matter what.  And she realized (based on other signs) that he probably hadn’t had too much with which to exercise his mind, at his previous owners’.  Nice lady.  

Anyway, apropos of the dumb dog thing, she told us about a Schnauzer she used to have–lived to fourteen–who was so smart it could spell (I know, I know, lots of dogs can spell, but by that point I trusted her, and I bet it was a very smart dog.) 

It made me think about my Schnauzer mix, in the photo.  You probably know his name is Giovanni, but a few weeks ago I found myself cooing to him, ‘I wish I’d named you Brain, because you are the smartest dog I’ve ever met, and you are a little bunch of grey matter, so Brain would be the perfect name for you, my friend.’  I don’t actually believe Brain is a great dog name–people would either think the owner is weird, or couldn’t spell Brian–but every day lately I get more proof of his smarts. 

 I have taught a few of the dogs to stand up, but not Gio.  This morning I was handing out training treats in a group session, asking everyone to do whatever tricks they knew (except for Jim, Annie, and Grace, who get treats for being alive).  I did a couple of the ‘stand up’ dogs in a row, and damned if I didn’t look back into the second row and see Giovanni, standing up beautifully, unasked, just because he was paying such close attention to the procedural options for getting more treats.  He was so pleased when I made a huge fuss over him and immediately asked him to stand up on purpose (and then slipped him not one, but maybe six treats).  He is a genius, and would be a whiz at traditional obedience, or anything, really. 

Ooh–that reminds me of what another smartie did yesterday.  Soyer is as smart as Giovanni, but Soyer is more emotional with it.  Giovanni would be the straight A+ kid, unflappable in a test, rock solid, confident, and kinda proud of himself–proud of knowing all the answers.  He’d probably even raise his hand first, at every question, no matter what the other kids thought.  Soyer would need the teacher to be nice to him, or he might not do as well.  He would need to feel appreciated.  For Giovanni, getting it right is reward enough, although he loves the praise, too (and he knows it’s no more than his due :)).  Soyer lives for the praise–it’s the reason for his doing what you’re asking.  He’s not interested in getting it right just to show he knows it.  But he is a natural whiz kid, just the same. 

Yesterday I came upon him worrying at the futon, trying to move the padded part to get to the frame, which is made of wooden slats.  I asked him to move over to one side of it, so I could lift up half of it.  He did, although I don’t know how he knew what I meant, and it took a couple of tries.  Under that half was a tennis ball and two dog bowls.  I showed those to him one by one, but they were not what he was looking for.  I put that half back down, asked him to move onto it (and he had already learned the technique, from that one earlier request, and went right over), and I lifted the other half. 

Eureka!  There is my white squeaky ball, said Soyer.  I will use my teeth to get it out.  Hmm…I cannot do that because these pieces of wood are too close together for me to pull it through.  No problem–I will just stick my paw through, whack it down to the end of this whole wooden thing, and I’ll have it.  Here goes…oops, I hit it too hard and it bounced off the wall and went back under…gotta whack it just a little less hard next time (he was like Bob Barker playing, ‘A Hole in One…or Two’ game on, ‘The Price Is Right’)…Yes!  There she is!  My ball!  It all happened so fast–maybe three seconds for the whole reasoning process and the three tries, one with his mouth and two paw whacks.  What a genius. 

He really should be playing Treibball, and I don’t say that just because of this incident.  If you remember from earlier in this blog, he was the god of pushing balls with his nose, very far and very fast, when he first came to Rochester and was living in boarding.  It was Jeanne who discovered this skill of his, and it was that discovery which was responsible for his first leap forward.  He’d been starved for exercise for a long time, and all the running he did, nosing the balls around for Jeanne and me, got his endorphins flowing again and began calming him.  At the time, Jeanne and I thought of Treibball, but we didn’t think he’d ever be able to do an activity where other dogs were present.  Not so!  Aww, look at him now, Jeanne…

So Soyer should be doing Treibball, and Gio should be doing agility.  Burberry should be doing scent tracking.  Charlotte has become very Border Collie-esque, helping Burberry train whomever needs it, and generally making sure everyone is doing everything right.  She always points it out to me if someone has left a little wet spot on the floor.  So she could be the one who comes and tells me that Burberry got her head trapped in a raccoon’s hollow tree, Soyer pushed one of the balls into a swamp, and Giovanni won’t come down off that agility teeter totter thing… 

How cool would all these activities be?  For one thing, I would drop several pounds.  🙂  And we could all live in a Winnebago (cats, too), and drive around to our different sports, and cheer each other on, and celebrate with early bedtimes involving naturally shed antlers and cozy murder mysteries…I think someday this will happen, or a form of it, anyway.  And sometimes we’ll follow Simo’s lead, and sit in chaises in the sun.  In fact, we won’t even need to take a class in that–it’s been on our itinerary a few times in the past.  😉

I will begin to visualize these things more seriously.  What is it that Maria says in, ‘The Sound of Music’, something about us having to look for our lives, look for our happiness?  Maybe it’s the Reverend Mother who says it first, to Maria, and she tells the Captain.  Anyway, I’m going to be looking a little more actively, from now on.

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