Smart dogs can be wily
My mother chose our family dog, Ragsy -a 40-pound terrier mix, specifically because he was smart enough to eat his fill at the community food bowl when the other dogs at the shelter ran the fence to greet her. This smart dog ran away from our home on the first day, only to return hours later after he had scoped out all the neighborhood restaurants, deftly avoiding police efforts to nab him.
Ragsy’s intelligence made him charming and lots of fun for an 11-year old. He was devoted to everyone in the family, and popular with my friends. He quickly learned charming new tricks as long as treats were involved, but he was naturally willful, and we could never claim he was obedient. Yes, we managed to teach him the important commands like sit and even stay to a limited degree. But as a smart dog, he decided when and if he would obey. Still, in spite of the challenges, we had no regrets. We knew we chose the right pet to add to a family full of stubborn people.
Willful people can do well with smart dogs
Once I was in a position to adopt my own dog, I chose a smart terrier; however until I adopted my current dog – possibly one of the most intelligent terriers in existence today – I did not truly recognize the importance of continuous and consistent training. Monty’s training started when he was about 3 years old. As he approaches age 14, I still work with him on a daily basis.
I am not a professional dog trainer, but I am willful and determined. I truly believe Monty is a wonderful dog because, in spite of his continuous testing of my resolve, I consistently make it clear that it is to his advantage to do what I tell him … well, much of the time, anyway.
The important thing to understand about smart dogs is that they are very capable of independent thought. They will learn important commands very quickly, but when they hear one, they will take a moment to decide if they want to obey. So many times, Monty was playing in the yard when I told him to come in. He turned his head in my direction to acknowledge the command, paused for a moment to decide playing was better than joining me in the house, and then came in about half of the time.
There is nothing wrong with a less-intelligent dog
I once heard that terriers are the only dogs bred to work without human intervention. I have no doubt that independent working dogs have a propensity to think for themselves in all kinds of situations. But border collies work with humans, yet they are considered to be even smarter. This does not mean other dogs are stupid, but they may be more focused on human approval, making them more trainable without a herculean effort.
Most important, dogs who want to please their family members readily demonstrate extraordinary affection. If you want an affectionate dog that happily greets you at the door rather than one that may occasionally refuse to make the effort to get off the couch, your primary selection criteria should not be intelligence.
Before choosing a dog, do your homework
Many people select a certain breed because it is the right size, smart, or just incredibly cute. However, with all the reputable websites available on the Internet, there is no excuse for not taking some time to read up on your breed of choice before heading out to a breeder or a rescue shelter.
Adopting a dog is a commitment of a decade or more, but the level of commitment often depends on the breed you choose. I understood the challenges of bringing terriers into my home. Yet it wasn’t until my third terrier that I really got it right. Although all my dogs have had happy, healthy lives with me, I truly believe that Monty and I have formed the tightest bond because of my willingness to make the extra effort to understand his wishes and communicate my own.