Outdoors with Forda Birds---By John Andreoni
Can your dog think and reason? From my experience, I have a tendency to think so. One thing for sure, they aren’t mindless creatures that survive totally on instinct. They have cognitive skills. According to the dictionary, cognition is a set of mental abilities and processes related to knowledge, attention, memory, working memory, judgment, along with evaluation, reasoning, computation, problem solving, decision making, and comprehension. It also includes the ability to produce a language and use existing knowledge and generate new knowledge. I’m definitely not a behavioral scientist, and I know there are many of them out there doing the research and using proper scientific methods needed to answer the same question. At the same time, what I and any other dog person have observed and experienced makes all of this easy to believe.
The other day, I happened to reread a column I wrote about my special bird dog named Aly. Looking back over the many years I shared with that dog gave me an entirely different view of canine intelligence. The things I watched her do in the field amazed me. I always thought it was animal instinct that made her such a good hunting dog, but it had to be more than that. For example, I recall on more than one occasion having a pheasant decide to run along the ground instead of flushing like I wanted it to. When a bird decided to do this, Aly would sweep around it, run past, then turn and hunt back. The pheasant would almost always turn and head back my direction. If a fencerow was handy, all I had to do was stand by it and wait for the bird to show up. With the dog on its tail there was nowhere for the pheasant to go but up. There had to be evaluation, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making taking place somewhere. I know I never trained her to do that.
One day, I had Aly along when a buddy and I were hunting ducks in a cornfield. A large flock of birds came in and if I recall correctly, at least three birds were dropped. Since I only marked one, where the others were was a mystery. It wasn’t a problem for the dog. She paid attention, marked the three birds, and retrieved them one by one. Again, the dog was focused, had more of an attention span than I did, used one heck of a memory, and did her job.
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