Of course my dog is manipulative. So is yours.

Basset hound with computer open and glasses on

When I worked for the school board, I completed a variety of assessments. Sometimes I’d be asked to determine whether a child was bright enough to warrant admission to a gifted program. Over the years, I assessed many children who were, without a doubt, considerably smarter than me.

The cutoff for gifted programs is very stringent–only the top two percent qualify–so often I was tasked with telling parents their child wasn’t smart enough, at least according to the standardized measures I had used. Parents were frequently devastated with this news. Woe to the parents who think their average-ability children will be rocket scientists. And woe to their children, who will face unrelenting pressure to attain these unrealistic parental goals.

To spare myself the trauma, I have refrained from having Jelly assessed. I’ve seen a lot of smart dogs on Border Security, and I know Jelly is not one of them. Loveable, yes, but smart? No. Why waste the funds on intellectual testing to tell me something I already know? Testing or not, I will not put undue pressure on Jelly to achieve beyond her capacity.

Jelly does have moments of brilliance, though. When she dawdles in the backyard, I inevitably find her scouring its perimeter. Most dogs secure the perimeter to keep out intruders, but not our Jelly; she’s searching for peanuts dropped by careless squirrels in their travels along our fence. Which dog is smarter, the one that keeps your home safe or the one that saves intruders from tripping on peanuts?

Last week, animal researchers reported on a study that got me thinking about Jelly’s intellectual potential. Theirs wasn’t an intelligence test, however; they deduced from a simple study that dogs manipulate people to their own ends. Well there’s a surprise. I immediately questioned the intelligence of the researchers.

Forget a study; I could speak to canine manipulation simply by observing my dog’s skills. For example, I know that some mornings Jelly pretends to go outside to pee, only to return too quickly to have relieved herself. She’s hoping she’ll get her breakfast faster. (This exact behaviour in her own dog prompted the canine-manipulation research described above.) Good try, Jelly. Now get back out there.

I also know that Jelly races around with my dirty socks so I will chase after her to retrieve them, thereby leaving my lunch in a vulnerable position. Ditto if I carelessly use the washroom without moving my meal prep to a safe spot. In both cases, I will come back to find all my lovingly prepared food all over my floor (if not already in Jelly’s stomach).

And every evening around 8:30, Jelly awakens from a deep sleep only to pace and whine to go out. We take her out because we can’t stand the disruption. She believes that, upon coming back in, she will be one step closer to her bedtime treat. Clever girl, but no treat for her. We don’t go to bed that early.

Come to think of it, Jelly is not manipulative, and she’s certainly not smart, she’s just hungry all the time. Maybe she’s trying to tell us something. Do you think we should feed her more? We could, but I think she’d still prefer peanuts to kibble.



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