Who Says Dog's Don't Think Logically? • April 2003
Nigel applies problem solving skills to get what he wants.
Every morning I walk on my treadmill, which is in our basement family room. Every morning Nigel and Divot get a “chewie” (bully stick) as part of our routine. Usually at some point during their chewing ritual, a silent signal is given and they suddenly switch chewies. Their signal is so subtle, I have never detected it but, like a well choreographed dance, they get up at precisely the same time and make the switch. But there have been rare occasions when Divot decides not to make the exchange, and she continues to chew her stick, ignoring Nigel’s intense stares. He inches closer and closer to her staring intently, hoping to initiate the exchange. I have realized however, that while he is staring at her, he is also plotting.
One particular morning when Divot chose yet again not to participate in the usual bully stick exchange, and Nigel’s prolonged staring had failed to motivate her to do so, he seemed to abandon the idea and ran upstairs. After a few moments, he barked from the top of the stairs, and Divot, being
curious ran up to see what he was barking at. As she ran up, he passed her on the way down, and pounced upon her bully stick. Poor Divot was confused, still looking to find the cause of his barking up there. He continued to use this tactic for a few days but she finally caught on. After that, his barks would be acknowledged by Divot, but with her bully stick held firmly in her mouth, as she looked up at him from the bottom step. Nigel, never one to take defeat easily, was forced to come up with a new diversionary tactic.
It was a few weeks later when he unveiled the new plan. I was on the treadmill, and both dogs were enjoying their bully sticks. Nigel was prepared for the exchange but again, Divot was not cooperating in their unspoken agreement. Nigel then trotted to the patio door and pawed at it, one of his signals to be let out. I stopped the treadmill and went to open the door for him. Divot, never missing an opportunity to catch a squirrel or chipmunk off guard, ran full speed out the open door, pushing past Nigel as she went. That was okay, he had no intention going out anyway. He ran back to the bully sticks and chose the one she had abandoned and settled in to enjoy a good, long chew. You could almost sense his delight with himself for pulling that off. Divot may not be the problem solver that Nigel is, but she is a smart dog and after a few days of this, she caught on to this new tactic too. Her curiosity still got the best of her, but when the door opened, her bully stick went out with her. Weeks went by, but tenacious Nigel was not prepared to give up yet, and his next tactic was a personal blow to me as I was used in his scheme.
Nigel possesses many of the traits of his cousin, the Norfolk Terrier. He is a brilliant problem solver, and is not the kind of dog who wants cuddling and petting all the time, usually only on his terms. So, the morning he unveiled his newest plan, we were well into our routine – me on the treadmill and Nigel and Divot settled in with their bully sticks. Nigel was ready to make the switch, but once again, Divot was not willing. After a few minutes of unsuccessful staring, Nigel approached the side of the treadmill with his ears down submissively, his nubby tail wagging, and with a look in his eyes that said to me, “I really love you. Pet me please!” Taken in by his overture of affection, I stopped the treadmill to pet and make a fuss over him, glad for his desire for attention. Divot’s jealousy over this little scene got the best of her and she dropped her bully stick and came over for some attention too. And as you have probably guessed, while I was petting and fussing over them, Nigel slipped away and took Divot’s bully stick. Such is life with a brilliant dog.
Nigel and Divot amongst
the summer flowers