Animal Insight, Intelligence, Logic

Many scientists believe that only mankind has intelligence and insight. The following appears to be conclusive proof that at least one dog shared these traits with humans.

At one point in my life, I lived on a rural farm, in a large old farmhouse. Being a dog person, I had several dogs, two of which had a litter of nine. I gave away most of the litter but kept three, which were named Titan, Enceladus, and Mimas (after moons of the planet Saturn). This increased the local house dog population to nine.

These three grew up in regular proximity to their parents, father Phobos and mother Deimos (named after moons of the planet Mars). These five were all coonhounds, which are traditionally hunting dogs. Since I'm not a hunting person, I never want to cause or even witness the death of any animal. I would never train a dog to participate in hunting or killing anything. Therefore, early in the parents' lives, I taught them to chase and catch ONLY tennis balls. By the time the puppies came along, playing ball was a regular recreation for Phobos, Deimos and me. Two of the eleven rooms of the farmhouse were arranged as large rooms of the nine dogs, and one wall in one of those rooms was arranged as a "backboard". I would throw a tennis ball hard against that wall and the dogs would compete to be the one to return it to me, where he or she would get high praise. (The other four dogs in the house did not generally like to play this game.)

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The three puppies soon wanted to participate in this fun, and especially in the praise afterward! It got really competitive when five dogs were each totally focused on being the one to bring the ball back. Often, the first dog to grab the ball would get bitten by a different dog that was just a moment late in grabbing for the ball! Sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally!

Even though the three puppies were from the same litter, they were VERY different! Enceladus always seemed to have pretty average capabilities for a dog. She was very affectionate and behaved like a really good dog. She had very sensitive feelings and was clearly crushed whenever she was yelled at, so she generally avoided being in trouble. Titan was a really good dog too, but clearly he was much less intelligent than the average dog. He seldom TRIED to get into trouble, but he could seldom resist temptation, and would regularly be yelled at for being on furniture, for having stolen food off the dinner table, that sort of thing.

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This brings us to Mimas, the third of the puppies, the most remarkable animal I have ever been around!. She was physically smaller than the other dogs (around 42 pounds rather than in the upper 50's) and she had been the runt of the litter and she was permanently hyperactive. She was by far the most intelligent animal I have ever been around, as some of the following anecdotes should conclusively prove. She was also extremely independent, and seldom seemed to care when she would get yelled at. Since she regularly got in trouble, that was quite often.

They never were actually 'spanked' or otherwise hit in any way, with the single exception of if a dog INTENTIONALLY hurt anything else, specifically by biting. I never detected any malicious intention in such situations, so no serious punishment was ever involved, but I tried to CONVINCE the dog that it was being ferociously punished! So there would be loud yelling just a few inches from its ear. In an extreme violation of house rules, my index finger might be swatted down across the top of the nose, once, during the yelling. Some of this was for the benefit for the many other house dogs which would always intently watch such a punishment. Among the nine house dogs, maybe once every year or two, some situation occurred where a SINGLE SHEET of newspaper was rolled up to apply a 'spanking'. These were very sturdy hunting dogs, and the reality was that the punished dog probably never even felt such a 'spanking' but I put on a good show and all the dogs acted certainly impressed as though the dog was being beaten to within an inch of its life! But they never got to see such a show but once every year or two, as I knew that I wanted to keep nine large house dogs to always be well behaved!

When the puppies were just a few weeks old, they had a choice (in their room) of sleeping in any of a number of dog beds or on an old couch. In either case, an odd pattern soon developed. Mimas would lie down first and Titan would sort of fall on top of her, and they would sleep like that, stacked up, for hours. Virtually every time they would sleep (several times a day) they would sleep piled up like that. Enceladus was rarely in the pile, and Mimas was never on top. It was always the same. I never knew how or why they started doing that or why it continued for over a year.

Mimas soon showed evidence of being very specifically left-pawed. Whenever she dug in the ground outside, or whenever she pawed at a door or anything else, she invariably used her left forepaw. This will become important in several of the following anecdotes.

Opening Doors

While Mimas was pretty young, sometimes all the dogs would get to sleep in the master bedroom for an occasional night. When they would get that chance, they each tended to have favorite places to try to sleep on the king sized bed. Deimos always expected to sleep under the covers, with her head on a pillow, like a person would. Phobos generally liked to sleep on the covers on or against my foot or leg, so he would always wake up if I moved. (Normally, they spent the nights in their own dog-rooms of the house.) The door to that bedroom was generally closed. It opened outward to the next room, with the doorknob at the right side of the door. A wooden chair was along the wall adjacent to that door.

Sometimes, in the morning, the dogs would wake up before I would, and they would be ready to go downstairs through the house to their rooms, where there was a ramp to an outside fenced-in run, where they could relieve themselves. They would all pace around the room, and the commotion always woke me up. Usually, I'd just grab the doorknob and turn it, and the pressure of a herd of dogs would push it open to release them. Sometimes, I would pretend to not be awake. Various of the dogs would have little unique schemes. Deimos would put her head on the bed with the end of her nose a fraction of an inch from my face, either waiting for me to wake up or encouraging me to do so. Her hot breath coming out her nostrils would usually do the job, but she made VERY sure that she never actually touched me, because she knew I would yell at her for that. Phobos would jump up onto and off the bed many times to shake me awake. Mimas seldom participated in all this, I think because she expected the others to get the job done. On the very rare times she decided to take action, she chose either of two quite unusual actions. One was to press her cold nose hard against my eyelid! The other was to lick my forehead once!

Occasionally, if I didn't show signs of waking up, Phobos, the father would jump up and sit (backwards) on that chair, facing the door. He would then clumsily swat downward at the doorknob. I would generally actually be awake by the time he would try that and I would watch him swat relatively randomly twenty to fifty times before he would happen to hit the doorknob just right to cause it to open. Of course, as soon as it opened, the herd of dogs would rumble out and down the stairway and through the house, usually barking in enthusiasm.

I guess I was somewhat impressed by his planning and the fact that he seemed to actually understand that sooner or later, he could get the door to open. I certainly did not teach him to do that and it is not entirely clear to me how he learned to try it. But, I have known and even seen other dogs do such things. I gave Phobos some credit for creativity and organized thought, but I didn't think he was anything really spectacular.

For some reason, one such morning Phobos was not in the room. When the dogs woke up before me, they wanted to get out but he was not there to open the door for them. After several minutes of a lot of running back and forth (which I'm sure they expected would wake me up!), Mimas climbed up on that chair. I was rather intrigued by this, because she had never gotten up on ANY chair before, and this was clearly going to be a first effort at such a maneuver. I already knew that she was intelligent, so I was very curious to see how long it would take her to start swatting (in other words, how long it would take to try a new physical movement). I expected to then see her swat anywhere from fifty to one hundred times, and I was curious to see how many swings she would take before she would give up. (Being hyper-active, she had already shown many examples of having very limited patience. I expected that after a dozen unsuccessful swats, she would give up.) Under NO circumstances, did I think she would actually get the door open!

I was VERY wrong! She sat down on the chair, facing the doorknob. The chair and the doorknob were ideally placed for a left-pawed dog, as I soon saw. As soon as she sat down, she lifted her left forepaw, but she did not swat at the doorknob. She very carefully placed her paw on top of the black doorknob (the image is still extremely vivid in my mind!). She then somehow moved her paw to the side, which immediately opened the door. Several of the other dogs got out before she could get down from the chair, but she immediately followed them out! It was pretty amazing! It was only around two seconds from the time she sat on the chair until the door was open!

During that whole day, I could not stop thinking about what I had witnessed. I decided to again not have Phobos sleep in the bedroom that night. He clearly was emotionally hurt, and it was clear that he thought he was being punished for something, but that wasn't the case. I just wanted to see if Mimas had been unbelievably lucky to open the door on the first try, or if she could do it again. In the morning, I got my answer! She got up on the chair, sat down, placed her left forepaw on the doorknob and again opened the door on the first try!

I do not know how she could have learned how to do such a thing. I know she was present when I turned the knob to open the door but I didn't really think any of the dogs paid much attention to what I was doing, but were instead focused on soon running out. I know she had watched her father swat at the doorknob, and that he would eventually get it to open. But what she did was VERY different. It was not a random swatting effort. This was an organized thought, that worked on the first try, on two consecutive mornings. This was a clear example of intelligent insight and understanding, and a manual dexterity that I did not think was possible in dogs.

In succeeding months, she even improved on this ability. Being a 42-pound dog, she could reach a normal doorknob by standing on her hindlegs. Fairly soon, she discovered how to do turn doorknobs while standing on her hindlegs, without needing a chair to sit on. Then, she somehow discovered the ability of how to also pull the doorknob toward herself to open a door inward. The first few times she did this, the other dogs would try to rush through the slightly opened door, and they would either cause it to again slam shut or they would squeal as they closed the door on their own heads.

Mimas' door opening ability got so good that it began to represent a real problem. When (human) guests would come up the driveway, I would tell all the dogs to go into their part of the house, and I would then close the door to keep them in there while the guests were in the house. Mimas wouldn't allow that to happen! By the time I would get halfway across the floor to the entry door to greet the guest, a bunch of dogs would run past me! A couple times, I had to tie a rope around the "people side" doorknob and tie it to a pool table I had. The guests would always see the bright yellow rope and they would get apprehensive at seeing the doorknob regularly rattle around! I always wondered what Mimas thought when the door didn't open like it should!

She could run across a room and stand up with her right forepaw on the doorframe, then she'd quickly put her left paw on top of the doorknob and rotate it. The whole procedure was done as quickly as a human walking across the room could do it.

I eventually came up with a solution to this problem. On the door that separated the dog rooms from the rest of the house, I moved the doorknob and latch assembly about three feet upward, to about a foot below the top of the door (about 6 feet above the floor)! Even I had to reach up to open it, so I was pretty sure Mimas wouldn't be able to! The door then always stayed closed when I closed it. That was not true for other doors in the house, which all had doorknobs at normal heights that she could reach!. Human guests would see that unusual doorknob and they would never believe the story! I suppose it added to their doubts about my sanity, to put a doorknob that high!

Intentional Abuse of Her Brother

This episode and the following one on The Bucket include behavior that could not possibly be explained in any other way than by advanced native intelligence in Mimas. Feel free to be the judge about that.

The dogs generally had the run of substantial parts of a large house, with continuous access to an outdoor run of 10 feet by 70 feet. Yet, they still would get excited at the chance of running out in the yard. I had fenced in around two acres (of an 18-acre farm). When the nine dogs would burst out the door, six of them (the five coonhounds and an Afghan) would do a high-speed run in a pack. Mimas was able to run slightly faster than any of the others and she would therefore always lead this pack. It was soon clear that the dogs followed the exact same path each time they were let out. She led the pack on a complex grand-prix type path, and after following two different loops of that course, she would run past the house's front door and start the entire path again.

Generally, the two adult dogs would stay with the pack for the first two laps, and the Afghan would generally drop off about then, too. This would usually leave the three sibling young dogs to run the third lap and usually a fourth. They seldom ran more than four laps, but keep in mind that these laps were long and complex. I would sometimes time them, like they do for racing cars. The first lap was usually around 27 seconds, the second and following laps were usually around 31 seconds. (By the way, this represents around a 1/4-mile total course length).

As confirmation of the consistent path, the grass was soon pretty bare in many parts of their racecourse. In one part, where their path had several zigzags under a grove of about 30 Southern Pine trees, the bare ground soon got piled up into "banking" and eventually their "rut" had gotten so pronounced that they could run that part of the course at virtually full speed, with their bodies nearly horizontal when going through those very tight, banked turns. The path for their course NEVER changed! I could point out for visiting guests just where the pack would go next, because it was always exactly the same.

That grove of pine trees was the greatest concentration of trees within the fenced area, but a substantial number of individual trees were distributed around the yard. A previous owner had clearly planted two trees symmetrically on each side of the entryway to the main door of the house. These two trees were Arbor Vitae and each was about 6 inches in diameter.

Since I enjoyed watching them race around their unique course, I would often stand just outside the door of the house, where I could see most of their racecourse. They would start straight out the door across the yard, and about 11 seconds later they would pass across in front of the house, diagonally between the two Arbor Vitaes, about a foot away from each, on their way to the zigzag sections in the pine trees, after which (at about 17 seconds) they again crossed in front of the house the opposite direction, but this time NOT passing between the two trees. Therefore, I would see the three young dogs whiz past three times on each lap, or either nine or twelve times per race.

As I said, Mimas was the fastest runner and ALWAYS led. This was apparently VERY important to her. One time, when I unexpectedly opened the door for their run, she was not near the door and Enceladus briefly wound up leading the pack. Mimas rapidly caught up, and nipped Enceladus' rear leg which knocked her down (she was not hurt, even though she got run over by the other dogs), and Mimas was back in the lead.

Titan was clearly less coordinated than Mimas. He could keep up with the other dogs but was NEVER able to run up front with Mimas. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was apparently important to him. Apparently, Mimas realized this, too. One nice June day, they were on their third lap, so the adults had already dropped off (they usually just ran the first two laps) and just the three siblings were still racing. Usually, Mimas would be about two dog-lengths ahead of everyone else, but on this third lap she was only about one dog-length ahead. My first thought was that she might have a slight injury or a thorn in her paw, so I made a mental note to carefully watch her and check her out later that afternoon.

As they passed me again later in that lap, she was still only about one dog-length ahead of Titan. I saw some special excitement in his eyes. He had never been able to keep up with Mimas ever before, and here, he was actually catching up with her! His tongue was flopping around in his mouth and he was clearly running as hard as he could.

As they appeared for the fourth lap where they crossed between the two trees, Mimas was only a half-dog-length ahead, an unheard of situation. At the time, I didn't realize it but she was in the middle of a cruel plan! By now, Titan's head was right alongside of Mimas' right ribcage. As Mimas passed me, she did a new and different thing. Where she would normally pass the second Arbor Vitae (on the left of it) with a little over a foot between her and the tree, this time she altered her path so that her head only cleared the tree by an inch or so. In Titan's excitement at finally catching up with her, he never even saw that there was nowhere for him to go. At full speed, he smashed headlong into the tree! He bounced off about ten feet to the side and was shrieking and flailing around on his back. It seemed certain that he had broken his neck, or if not, certainly had major spinal damage.

After a few minutes, I was able to get him calmed down and he stopped crying. The nearest veterinarian was 30 miles away, and the nearest animal osteopath was 100 miles away at Purdue. I was trying to figure out how I could immobilize his neck for a trip down to Purdue's Small Animal Clinic Emergency Room. After some gentle probing, he seemed to become less sensitive to his neck area. Eventually, he wanted to stand up, but I was not sure that was a good idea, because I still thought his neck might have been broken. But I eventually allowed him to get up. I watched him very carefully for several hours and he generally seemed to have recovered.

On the following day, Mimas led the first two laps by the usual two dog-lengths, but then was again only about one dog-length ahead on the third lap. On the fourth lap, she was again half a dog-length ahead of Titan as they approached that crossing area. Exactly as she had done the day before, she veered over at the last moment, not leaving anywhere for Titan to go, and he again smashed head-first into the same tree! Again, he bounced and squealed and flailed around. Again, after about 20 minutes, he was able to get up and slowly walk around.

On three more consecutive days, the exact same thing happened! On five consecutive days, Titan ran head first into the exact same tree, and full speed, and always on the fourth lap of their racing. By then, I fully realized that Mimas was doing that intentionally. On each of these last three of these days, I pretty much knew what to expect, so on the fourth lap, I watched very carefully. Mimas would run straight on the normal path up to around five feet before the tree, where she would make a substantial change in direction (off the normal path) so she would just barely clear the tree. She came so close in doing this that I'm pretty sure that her ear actually hit the tree as she passed it. In other words, she was intentionally running her brother into that tree! In precisely the same way, on five consecutive days!

I started dreading letting the dogs out for their run and was only letting them run once a day. I didn't know how long Titan's head and neck and spine could survive if he continued to run into that tree every day. I considered getting him a bicycle helmet, but he reacted strongly when I even tried to wrap a towel around his head. I then considered wrapping padding around that one specific tree since it was the only tree that Mimas kept running him into! Instead, I just chose to wait until the fourth lap and then go stand out in their racecourse path, which ended that racing session. I figured that, if nothing else, I wanted to give Titan's neck a few days to heal before his sister again caused him to smash into that tree. For a couple weeks, I did this. After that, I worried for him, but apparently Mimas lost interest in doing that to him, and as far as I know, it never happened again.

The fact that the whole sequence was exactly repeated on five consecutive days, eliminates random chance from being the cause of these events. The fact that they always ran three normal laps and then Mimas veered over always on the fourth lap and always exactly at the moment where Titan would have no chance of stopping or slowing to get behind her or veering around the tree, makes it clear that this was an organized thought. It even establishes that this plan was pre-planned, because it was necessary for Titan's head to be alongside Mimas, and it was also necessary for her to veer over at exactly the right time to eliminate any options for him except to crash into the tree.

This was a complex plot, that necessarily was planned ahead, and which was duplicated exactly five separate times. Most humans would be proud to think up and execute such an involved sequence of events. And this was a dog!

(Titan must have had a very sturdy skull and neck. It seemed clear that he had significant pain for a couple months, but he lived more than ten years after these incidents, and he never showed significant evidence of having arthritis or other resultant conditions due to those impacts).

Late in that same summer, another (younger) dog joined the pack, Meatball. He was an unplanned combination of Afghan and Coonhound, and so he had the longer legs and skinny, muscular body of an Afghan. He was a pretty smart dog, not at all like the very slow-witted Titan. (I'm sure it didn't help Titan's intellect by smashing into that tree over and over!) As a rather young pup, Meatball could already run faster than nearly all the other dogs and he would often be right up alongside Mimas as the pack was roaring around its racecourse.

Seeing Meatball's head right alongside Mimas' side gave me flashbacks about Titan's collisions, and I was becoming concerned for him, especially since Mimas seemed to glory in her sole leadership in the racing. As I expected, one day, on the fourth lap, in the exact same place where Mimas would cut off Titan, she did the same to Meatball. He was clearly a far more fragile dog and I was really worried as I saw it happening. In some remarkable way, he reacted extremely rapidly and veered around the opposite side of the tree (fortunately it was only six inches thick). Moments later, Mimas slowed down and raised her head as in victory and her gait changed into a sort of prance. Then, whoosh, Meatball shot by her!

Mimas and Meatball were very close from that day on. They would play together and sleep together and eat together and even share bones, which is always a touchy subject for dogs. Apparently, Meatball must have earned some respect from Mimas that day, in avoiding smashing himself into the tree.

I did not ever see Mimas try that maneuver on any of the other dogs or at any other times. I do not know how she learned it or thought it up, or how she so effectively changed it into actions. That was one of the incidents in her life that encouraged me to think that her intellect was roughly comparable to a seven or eight year old human child.

Manual Dexterity

Since chasing, catching and retrieving tennis balls was such an important part of most of the dogs' lives, each day always included at least a couple indoor sessions in their dog room. I soon found that if I bounced it too easily off the backboard wall, too many of them would get to the ball at the same time and they tended to accidentally bite each other. Therefore, I would bounce it rather hard off the wall. Since they tended to spread out along both sides of me, I could therefore usually aim the bounce to give each of them a fair chance by having the ball go directly toward them. Nobody got left out in this way, even though some of them were not as good as others at catching a ball.

With half a dozen highly competitive dogs wanting to catch the ball, I eventually had to throw the ball nearly as hard as I could against the wall, so the target dog kept the advantage before several others would react and move over to try to intercept.

With so many dogs in the house, it was necessary to continuously provide a LOT of drinking water for them. I found that a full-sized metal pail made the most sense, and even that often had to be refilled twice a day.

With how fast I would throw the ball, sometimes a dog would not catch it successfully and the ball would bounce off its nose. Sometimes, this would make it bounce high in the air, and all the dogs would then still try to retrieve it. Occasionally, it would land in the bucket of their water. This was always interesting! Everything would stop. Even if there were other balls around, they were forgotten. Only the one in the pail was in their minds.

Of course, the ball would float, with about half of it above the water surface. Generally, they would all come up to surround the bucket, and there was usually about half a minute while they all just looked at it.

The first few times this happened were extremely interesting. Phobos was the first to try a way to get the ball out of the nearly full bucket. He pressed his nose against the side of the bucket and was starting to try to push it over! Now, granted, his method would have worked, but several gallons of water would then have been on the floor! So I told him to stop.

Next, Deimos came up to try. She was a dog who was "dainty". After a rain outside, she would circle around puddles rather than running through them like all the other dogs. She REALLY never liked to get wet! She tried to bite the fuzz on the top of the ball with her front little teeth. It didn't work very well because each time she would press down to get a good bite, the ball would sink and move away. She was persistent though, and eventually got a good enough grip on the fuzz to lift it out. She dropped it on the floor and one of the other dogs brought the soaking ball back to me.

Later, Phobos came up with another approach. He would just open his mouth and plunge several inches deep in the water. The floatation of the ball would firmly press it up in his mouth and he would always get it.

Titan would see him do that. One day when Phobos was not around, Titan gave it his first try. He stuck his nose deep in the water but not where the ball was! He stayed down there, and lots of air bubbles were coming out his nose. A moment later, he rapidly pulled back, coughing, because he had breathed in while underwater! He never tried again.

Virtually always, then, either Phobos or Deimos would retrieve the ball when if fell in the bucket.

On one particular day, the pail was a little over 3/4 full. When I sat down on the floor in their room, they realized I was ready to play ball with them. No balls were near me so I asked for a ball. This always sent most of them scurrying off to find one, and usually within a minute, I would be supplied with three or four tennis balls. On this particular day, after several minutes, I still didn't have any. They had searched everywhere and couldn't find any to bring to me. (Sometimes, one of them would carry a ball out into their enclosed pen/dog run. They would never go out there to bring one in to me.)

Eventually, one of the dogs brought a ball that had been chewed up. All of the fuzz had been pulled off, so it was a pink ball. More than that, about 1/4 of the ball was missing!

I tried to convince them to go out into the pen to find some balls, but they didn't understand. Since there were all standing around waiting, I decided to try to bounce the partial ball for them. It sort of worked, but the ball would bounce really weird! Eventually, the ball fell into the bucket of their water. As usual, they quickly all ran up to look, but the ball was not floating. It had sunk to the bottom of the bucket. For several minutes, the various dogs would stare down into the bucket at it. Phobos stuck his nose underwater for a few seconds, and bubbled, but quickly realized that he couldn't reach it. He briefly started trying to dump the bucket over, but I again stopped him. After nearly ten minutes, they had all wandered away. Except one, Mimas.

I found this interesting, because she had never even tried to get a ball out of the bucket before. She always waited for one of the others to do it. Apparently, since they all had wandered away, she decided to look. She came up to the bucket and soon sat down on the floor next to it. Almost immediately, she lifted her left forepaw up and stuck it in the water. I had no idea what was going on! I had never seen ANY dog ever do that before! There was no hesitation and no apparent uncertainty. While still sitting, she now had this leg over the edge of the bucket and all the way down to the bottom. Her head was over the bucket, facing downward.

Then, rather slowly and smoothly, she raised her paw up out of the water. Hanging on one of her dewclaws was the partial ball! I was astounded! I could not believe her luck in accidentally snagging the ball! (At this time, I had no idea that this was planned and intentional!) As she got it clear of the water, she reached forward with her mouth to grab it. Unfortunately, as her mouth touched it, the partial ball fell off her dewclaw and sank back down to the bottom of the bucket.

Being trained as a Physicist, I spent the next ten minutes trying to estimate the odds of all of those things happening by chance. It was clear that I had just witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it was probably a lot more rare than that!

Rather than spending the time mulling over all that, I wish I had gone to get the movie camera instead! Between ten and fifteen minutes after the unsuccessful attempt, she again walked up to the bucket, sat down, reached in (again with her left forepaw), slowly but immediately snagged the partial ball from the bottom of the bucket, lifted it up and out, grabbed it with her mouth and brought it over to me! The entire time her paw was in the water was around four to five seconds, so this was not a flailing effort at snagging the ball. There was absolutely no doubt that this was completely thought out ahead of time, and it involved a series of very specific actions and movements.

There are TWO aspects of this incident that I find astounding. First, the fact that a dog would have the manual dexterity to accomplish such a precision feat. Even more, complicating this aspect of it further is the refraction of light when it goes from water to air, which makes things appear to be in different locations than they actually are. Second, the thought processes involved in planning and executing such a complex task are really involved. Even after I had witnessed it once, I had not been willing to believe that a dog (even a smart dog) could think through all that. But, after having seen it done a second time, successfully, that eliminated all random chance from the incident. As smoothly and efficiently as she accomplished the goal, particularly the second time, shows absolute proof of organized thought and planning.

None of the dogs had ever even been faced with such a situation before that day. She had never previously even tried to retrieve the ball when one was floating on the surface of the water. She could not have learned that by watching any previous incident. Yet, in the very first attempt at executing a plan she developed in just a few minutes, she was nearly successful in what she wanted to do. And then, within an hour, she exactly duplicated the whole procedure, successfully.

Since that day, I have often wondered how well young children would do with such a problem facing them. One would have to understand that it was possible to extend a dewclaw to catch the inside of the ball, which seems to me an amazing three-dimensional insight. Then to actually do it, with the necessary very precise positioning of the leg, paw and dewclaw, seems inconceivable. Even now, if I hadn't witnessed it TWICE, I would doubt that an animal could have accomplished that.


Certain antelope in Africa have a unique way of sometimes running, called pronking. All four feet touch the ground together, tightly grouped together. As the antelope rises up, the front legs move forward and the rear legs aft, only to come together again just before touching the ground again. Only a few antelopes do this peculiar gait, including Springboks, Dik-diks, and Klipspringers. I am not aware of any other animal that moves in this way.

One day, while the dogs were let out in the fenced-in yard, I saw Mimas running (by herself) across the yard in that manner. Over the next several weeks, I tried to watch regularly, and I saw her do it briefly three other times, but only for a hundred feet or so.

I have always wondered how she learned to do that. There were a few wild rabbits on the property, and they jump in a vaguely similar way, but different. Her running was NOT like a rabbit, but pronking like those antelopes. She certainly could never have learned it from any of the other dogs, and she had never been around other animals other than the usual cats, squirrels, rabbits, birds, etc. It IS true that I often left a television on PBS which sometimes has wildlife programs on, but I am not about to believe that she watched television or learned that type of running from it. I haven't the slightest explanation for how she learned this ability!


I never allowed any of my dogs to beg at the dinner table. As soon as we would be ready to sit down to eat, I would banish them from the room. This usually resulted in them being all bunched up in the doorway looking in. My rules were strict about this matter, and if any of their paws were out in the kitchen, I would say that dog's name. If it had to get up a different dog would get its place, so they were really careful about staying a fraction of an inch behind that imaginary line.

At the end of any meal, it turns out that silverware are rattled onto dishes in the process of cleaning a table. The dogs realized this as a signal that the meal was over and that they were then allowed into the room. They knew that they were still not allowed to beg, but they made sure they were available in case any food scraps needed to be given away. Whenever there were baked potato skins or other such goodies to give out, they would usually be torn up into 9 equal parts, for the nine dogs. Invariably, though, it always seemed to work out that one more piece was needed. Whenever my mother dog-sat, this always happened. Probably at least 15 times, she needed to find another goodie, and she always thought it was HER fault of not properly counting out the nine goodies necessary! But it was just Mimas, demonstrating that mere humans were sometimes not up to her brainpower! One time that my mother visited, I showed her why that was. Whenever the goodies would be about to be given out, the dogs would sort of line up. Mimas was always one of the first couple at the end of the line. She ALWAYS knew which end of the line goodies would start to be given out, and I was never sure how she knew that! They would all do their cute-impression, of course! After Mimas got her piece, she would wolf it down and circle around behind the line of dogs to be sitting there as the LAST dog of the line! My mother never caught on to this trick, but I did, and as long as I knew for sure that she had gotten her piece at the start of the line, I would pass her by at the end of the line.

As I see it, Mimas demonstrated an intelligence and a planning that was so remarkable that it ALWAYS won out against my mother! And my mother occasionally seemed to realize that fact!

No dog was EVER allowed to touch anything on the counters or the kitchen table. However, they WERE allowed to sit on nearly any chair in the house, including the kitchen table chairs. Occasionally, when the cleaning of the table was taking unusually long, a dog would get up on one of those chairs to better look at the goodies they would all soon get. When Phobos or Deimos or Enceladus would do this, they would sit elegantly in the chair, easily a foot away from any food. It wouldn't be long before saliva started dripping from their mouths! Titan only rarely got up on a kitchen table chair. When he did, he would get SO focused on a bone or a potato skin on the plate in front of him that he would lean far forward and his nose would wiggle from all the sniffing he was doing. The end of his nose would sometimes wind up 1/8 of an inch away from the piece of food! But he knew to not touch or grab at it, because then he would not share in the goodies with the others. Once or twice, the end of his nose bumped into the piece of food, and he knew he had done a bad thing. I could hardly keep from laughing because he would jump down so fast and act so guilty. (He still got his piece of the goodies!)

Mimas virtually NEVER climbed up on a kitchen table chair. So, one day when I saw her climbing up on one after a meal, I was curious. She sat down and then slowly, casually panned her head from one side of the room to the other, then immediately got down. I thought it quite unusual and curious.

Moments later, I needed to take some containers into the pantry, but I returned to the room within about five seconds. I happened to look toward the table. There was no dog sitting there, but I noticed that a piece of steak meat was gone from a plate. I knew that because I had already started planning how to divide it up for the nine dogs. No dog was near the table, and none were even moving when I re-entered the kitchen.

Having previously learned about how smart and devious Mimas was, I was immediately sure she must have taken it. My guess is that she had earlier gotten up on the chair for a moment so she knew exactly where everything was, and when I left the room for a moment, it only took her a second or two to reach up and grab the missing piece. I really didn't give any of the other dogs credit enough to plan and do this! Even though I hadn't seen anything happen, I was SURE that Mimas grabbed it. So I sat down on the kitchen floor near where she was sitting. I sat right in front of her, face to face. For over ten minutes, we sat there looking at each other. I KNEW that she had not had time to eat or swallow the piece of meat, which meant it had to still be in her mouth. Yet, she did not chew or try to swallow even once in the ten minutes we were facing each other.

I must admit that I was starting to have doubts about whether she had taken it. But near the end of that ten minutes, saliva was starting to drip from her mouth, which was very rare for her! She knew that as soon as she would chew or swallow, I would somehow get it out of her mouth, she would be yelled at, and she would miss out out the sharing of goodies that was soon about to happen. I have always been impressed at the incredible self control she had demonstrated that day in keeping from even once chewing or swallowing.

After I saw the saliva starting to leak from her mouth, I was pretty sure I had been right. After more than ten minutes of staring at each other, I grabbed her mouth and pried it open. Yup! There was a really soggy piece of meat in there. As the rules required, I took it away from her and I then made a big thing with the other dogs of how especially good all the goodies were that day, which, of course, she did not get!

I suspect that there are very few children who have enough self-control to do what she did that day. Until that day, I never would have guessed that any animal had that capability.


The three-story tall, 11-room farmhouse where the nine dogs lived was WAY out in the country. The nearest neighbors were nearly half a mile away. In other words, except for the noise and activities of the dogs, very few unexpected sounds ever occurred. And, with nine good-sized dogs loose in the house, it seemed unlikely that a burglar would try to break in.

As it happened, one night I couldn't sleep and I decided to go downstairs to get a snack from the refrigerator. As I got to the top of the stairs (in the dark), I saw that there was a light on down in the kitchen. This sort of thing gets one's attention! Even though it seemed illogical, I immediately assumed that someone had broken in down there, so I grabbed a metal rod that happened to be nearby, before quietly going down the stairs. When I got to the bottom and looked around the corner, I saw that the light was from the refrigerator light because the door was open. Sitting on the floor in front of it was Mimas. She had not grabbed anything, and I have always assumed that was because I happened to catch her quickly enough.

An especially odd aspect of this incident was that the refrigerator did not have a magnetic latch like modern refrigerators. It had a big vertical handle/lever that had to be pulled fairly hard to release the door latch. Considering how tall she was and the way the lever had to be pulled outward, I have never figured out how she did it. It doesn't seem possible that she wrapped her paw sideways around it to then pull it outward, and it seems equally unlikely that she would have grabbed the metal handle with her mouth.

In addition, it has always mystified me as to how she came to understand what was necessary to open that door. As with the many other unusual things she seemed to have learned, I never taught her any command or behavior pattern that was anything similar to that sort of movement. Actually, she was so very independent that I early gave up on trying to "train" her to do even the usual sit, speak, shake hands stuff. She somehow learned all of her special skills on her own!


With nine good-sized dogs in the farmhouse, a LOT of dogfood was consumed. When I had time, I would mix Gravy Train with hot water (and sometimes food scraps or soup). I think it came in 40-pound bags and a bag would be completely used for one such meal. This had a level of inconvenience to it, so in general, I trained them all to be on a self-feeding regimen. This is where dry dog food and water was continuously available, and where healthy dogs invariably eat just the right amount for their needs.

Therefore, a substantial supply of dry dog food was always available somewhere. Rather than bringing home a bag or two of food every day, a truck from the local grain elevator would bring out whatever brand I wanted, usually a ton at a time. It worked out that the pile of bags was usually stored fairly near the bucket that was filled with dry food. This arrangement worked great! Except where Mimas was concerned.

My best guess is that a pail full of dry dog food probably gets even drier when exposed to house air for a number of hours. None of the other dogs ever seemed to have a problem with that. Mimas apparently did!

It took me several weeks to piece together the following. When a new pail of food was poured from the bag, Mimas would eat with the others, and many of them would just get a mouthful or two and wander away to lay down to eat it. By the way, while watching them all very closely to figure this out, I discovered that Deimos only seemed to like the "reds"! Gravy train is a misture of red chunks and brown chunks. When Deimos would grab a mouthful to take away, she would then carefully lay down and then open her mouth to let them all fall onto the floor. A minute or two later, only a bunch of "browns" were still on the floor and she would not have any interest in them. Eventually, some other dog would come by and promptly eat them up. If I didn't pay attention right away, I would never have known her preference!

Getting back to the food problem. One day, when I picked up a (new) bag to dump some into the pail, some started falling out the bottom of the bag. Upon examination, I found that a bottom corner had been chewed away and there was about a one-inch diameter hole there. Since this was a very rural farm, I was first sure it was field mice that had gotten into the house. The family also included three cats, but I doubted their mouser abilities!

I soon discovered that it was never the bottom bag, where mice could get to, but a bag a foot or so above the floor. And the holes in about 30 different bags were not random, but always in a bottom corner of the bag. One night, I heard noise downstairs so I quietly snuck down the stairs with my flashlight off. At the bottom, I turned it on to find Mimas chewing off the bottom corner of a bag!

Of course, I can never be sure why she did that. I thought about it a lot and eventually concluded that she could then get to food that was probably more moist (and tasty???) that the same food after it had sat out in the air for several hours. In any case, after I caught her doing that, the problem never happened again. That, in itself, made me wonder why it stopped! The only conclusion I could come to was really impossible to believe. If she knew that she was known at the culprit, no doubt would remain about who did it. I know that's impossible, but she only ever did that where there were no witnesses, apparently at night in the dark. Unless there was an organized plan involved, it seems to me that it would have been far easier during daylight.

Playing in Pitch Blackness

When Mimas was about three years old, she very suddenly became extremely ill and almost comatose. Local vets didn't have any suggestion other than to put her to sleep. I was soon at the Purdue Small Animal Clinic, where Ralph Richardson took charge of her case. (Remember that this was a 42-pound dog). They stabilized her and X-rayed her abdomen, finding a HUGE soccer-ball-sized tumor there. They doubted that she would survive a serious operation, and some of the vets there said to euthanize her. I could not do that, and Ralph agreed to assemble specialists to do it. I doubt if he first believed me but I told him to do his best and that Mimas would do the rest. I believe that they removed a 4-kilogram (9-pound) tumor from her, which was nearly the size of a bowling ball. I think I remember one of the attending doctors saying it was the largest tumor ever known in that sized animal.

After the operation, Ralph came in to say that the operation was successful but that she would probably still not live long because no such sized animal had ever survived such an operation without being afterwards connected to life-maintaining equipment. They didn't know Mimas! Less that 12 hours after that operation, she sort of wagged her tail when she saw me and she made a weak bark, and she clearly attempted to stand up. The doctors were all looking at each other, trying to figure out what to do. Ralph eventually took charge and told them to help her stand if that's what she wanted to do. She was really wobbly, but she stood for half a minute. Her recovery was amazing! Two days later she was back home! She LOVED that because she got sole access to our bedroom. I did that so the other dogs wouldn't bump into her and so they wouldn't try to play just yet. I suspect she just thought she was "special"! She was written up in several veterinary magazines soon after, and she even got her picture in a couple!

That giant tumor just happened to be the most urgent of several medical problems she had. She had Leukemia that had progressed quite far along. She also had several different kinds of cancer. I wound up driving the 90-mile-each-way trip to Purdue almost daily. Ralph would describe the results of the latest tests on her, and he would then describe several possible approaches to treatment. By now, I think he understood what a strong-willed dog she was. I would write down all the big words he would say, and I would go to the Medical Library to study those subjects, drugs, and methodologies so I could best understand the situation. Eventually, Ralph settled on an approach that had never been tried on anything larger than lab rats. After I researched what he had told me, I agreed to proceed with that option. It involved a multi-phase approach to treatment, which was unheard of at that time (late 1970s) but has become commonplace today. One of the aspects of this was very intensive chemotherapy.

The bottom line was that Mimas lived a year and a half after that, nearly all of which was as a very active, playful dog. Titan certainly never won a puppy-fight with her! If she was ever in pain, I never knew it except in her very last day.

Several weeks before that day, the effects of a year and a half of massive chemotherapy finally overwhelmed her kidneys. Again, the Purdue SAC and Ralph stabilized her. No one realized it just then, but she had become absolutely blind. I only came to realize this on the drive home when she did some things clumsily, which was unheard of for her. In any case, she spent about the last three weeks of her life absolutely blind.

It apparently was not that much of an inconvenience to her! She would still race around the house at full speed, flying up and down stairways with the other dogs, and especially with her brother Titan. She ate with them, went out into the pen with them, and played regularly with Titan, her brother.

I discovered that I had to be careful to not move any chairs or close doors that were usually open because she would then crash into it. Other than that, and a milky gray appearance to her eyes, there was not any evidence that she was blind. Except one thing.

She no longer had any way of knowing whether it was day or night. Whenever the mood struck her (and that was often) she wanted to play with Titan. She would usually nip his rear leg or his ear or his nose. This was a pattern for their whole lives. Then they would always race around the house chasing each other, nipping at each other, playing. Unfortunately for Titan, when she would now do this at night, he was at a tremendous disadvantage! He couldn't see anything! Almost every one of the nights of those last three weeks, I would be awakened to the sounds of the two of them running through the house, across some hardwood floors and up and down the hardwood stairs. Poor Titan would yelp from time to time, either from her nipping too hard or from when he ran into something.

Sometimes, in the middle of this sort of session in the middle of the night, she would momentarily jump up on the bed (something she seldom had ever done), lick my face once and zoom off to chase Titan some more. It was really hard to believe that she was actually blind and that she was not doing all this in a lighted space.

For the record, in my opinion, even two days before the end, she enjoyed life and living. Her last two days were clearly hard on her. The staff at Purdue had gotten to know her really well and they had come to realize how strong-willed she was. They were already arranging things so she would be able to have kidney dialysis. That was really thoughtful, but I could sense from Mimas that she had had enough. I did not think that it would have been in her best interest to prolong her life further. She had gotten a year and a half more of happy life than she would have otherwise gotten. I had gotten her company for that time. I never wanted her to suffer and I felt that further prolonging her life would have involved her suffering.

All of this happened in the 1970s, many years before cloning was realistic, but after she was gone, I asked about the possibility of freezing and storing some of her cells, but no one (in the 1970s) even knew how that was possible yet. It's too bad. I know that my life would be more interesting if I had a Mimas II around. And, considering her remarkable abilities, one of her clones might even be the emcee of a television show by now! Certainly, one would be operating a web-site! Maybe a Dog-FaceBook???

Challenges regarding Goodies

All my dogs got used to being rewarded often, usually at least a couple times every day. Often, this involved Medium-sized Milkbones, as I quickly learned that they did not really seem to like off-brands! With nine large house dogs, this resulted in full boxes of Milkbones getting used up every day or two, and I soon came to be breaking the Medium-sized Milkbones in two. I felt that the dogs may not have valued the SIZE of the rewards and that MULTIPLE rewards had more value to them. I still went through massive amounts of Milkbones though!

Well, in my usual nature of always looking for 'challenges' for my dogs, I eventually came up with hundreds of variations of the reward process! Of course, most of the more interesting ones were when only one or two dogs were around, such as where they KNEW that it was goody-time, but most of the dogs did not seem to distinguish between the front or back of my hand. So I could hold my hand out, facing down, with my thumb holding the goody hidden under it. Some of the dogs like Titan or Kidd would not even think further, and they clearly assumed that I had no goody! Mimas IMMEDIATELY understood the situation and she immediately came up and pushed her nose up UNDER my hand! None of the other dogs did that until after I had fooled them several times!

There were also times when I would present my right hand in such a way, while I actually had the goody hidden in my left hand. Again, Mimas only took a second or two to figure this out, while most of the other dogs could be fooled several times before learning that this was a possibility.

It eventually developed that Mimas clearly realized that I would create 'challenges' specifically for her, as she and I both realized that none of the other dogs were likely to think through other possibilities which I might have thought up. So while other dogs would be focused on my right hand or my left hand, Mimas would find a bulge in one of my pockets or in my shoe or sock. SHE established many of the rules of such challenges. In this case, once she figured out where a goody was for her, she would simply press the end of her nose against that pocket or wherever I had it hidden, for maybe one second. She never chewed through anything to try to get to it, as she clearly realized that all I wanted was for her to FIND it, and she knew that I would immediately get the goody out of my pocket or shoe or sock to hand to her. It was like we had an entirely separate 'game' going on while other dogs were dealing with much simpler games regarding 'which hand does he have the goody in' sort of challenges. I never knew whether she had actually discovered a Milkbone that I hid in my hair, as she would never have tried to jump or climb to get to it. Other than that, she found EVERY 'difficult' goody I tried to hide from her. I often spent a lot of time in trying to think up adequate challenges for her. One that almost worked was when I put TWO goodies in the same pocket, and only gave her one when she found the pocket. It took her more than another minute to realize that I had a second one there for the required nose-jab, which was the longest it ever took her!

Two of the dogs seemed to have especially good 'sniffers' so they could often find goodies that the other dogs had difficulty with. Mimas did not seem to have that advantage, but her mother definitely did. So when I would let all the dogs back in the house from being out in the yard, and they realized that goodies might exist, several of them seemed to have their own unique method for trying to find the goodies. In Mimas' case, she clearly realized that I would always hide at least three or four goodies that I was sure that the other dogs would not find, and it was fascinating to watch how she seemed to develop a strategy. When I would balance a half-MilkBone on top of one of the many doorknobs in the large house, several of the dogs would find them. But some clearly found such ones by sniffing, and others by learning that I MIGHT put one in such places.

I would occasionally smear a gob of creamy peanut butter on top of the end of the noses of the dogs. Most would see the goody there and tongue-lick randomly, gradually getting their goody. Mimas had an entirely different approach. Even though she clearly saw HER peanut butter, she would generally immediately go find her brother, Titan, and lick his off first! (So I generally had to give Titan a second chance at this, after I would send Mimas out into the yard). Once she got his share (which she always got away with), she would then go to rub her own nose against a pillow or chair and then lick it off. So, she generally got a 'double share' of goodies! I never saw that she tried to do that to any of the other dogs, and I am not sure why.

I eventually modified this, due to Mimas trickery! I put the gob of creamy peanut butter INSIDE their mouth, against the roof of the mouth. As far as I know, Mimas never figured out how to get that out of Titan's mouth!

It was always my suspicion that the dogs all liked the peanut butter fun. Nearly all dogs vacuum down all goodies in a fraction of a second, so I never saw how they got much ENJOYMENT. But with either of the peanut butter episodes, most of the dogs would be licking for at least two minutes and sometimes even longer. I thought it was worth buying the expensive peanut butter because of that extended period of enjoyment for them. Of course, I got some smiles from seeing somewhat cross-eyed dogs seeing a glob of peanut butter stuck on his or her nose!

Some of the dogs, like Titan and the retarded Kidd, never seemed to have ever come up with any actual thoughts or logic that I ever detected, even though I gave them their share of opportunities. Others, like Mimas, seemed to nearly continuously be thinking! Once I had built a dog-run for them to always have access to from their part of the house (so they did not have to wait until I let them out into the two-acre fenced yard I had made for them), the four-foot-high fence around the run always kept the dogs in. Except for Mimas. Sometimes, I would notice that she was not inside the house with the other dogs, and I would open the kitchen door to go out into the yard to try to find where she might have run away to. But there was ALWAYS a cute dog sitting just outside the kitchen door! At least a couple times every day! She never seemed to go anywhere, but she seemed to just be proving to me that she could go anywhere she wished. Clearly, since she could get OUT past the fence, if she had wanted to, she could just as easily have gotten back in. One day I was tempted to leave her 'locked out' to try to prove to her that I could MAKE HER get back in, but the kitchen door never stayed closed enough hours to do that.

Before the puppies, when I just had Phobos and Deimos, I would sometimes take them for rides in my Austin-Healey 3000 sports car. It was called a '2 plus 2' in the claim that human beings could have fit in the tiny back seats, but they were perfect for Phobos and Deimos. It was a convertible and they never moved from their places during rides. I would go through the drive-through at a local McDonalds, and order a Quarter Pounder for me and two standard hamburgers for them. The kids that worked in the drive through got to know the dogs, and I think the whole restaurant stopped as everyone came over to the drive through window to watch as I held Deimos' (still paper wrapped) hamburger back over my shoulder toward her and she gently accepted it from me, and then I did the same for Phobos. Deimos would set hers down on the seat and use her nose to open up the paper wrapper, which always came out as a perfect piece of paper! Phobos was more direct, where he always ate his way through the paper wrapper, so only about half of his paper wrapper was ever left.

At human bedtime, Deimos expected to get the pillow in her dog bed adjusted and her cover put over her. Phobos never wanted a blanket on him and he would get overheated when he accepted it from my mother. At the following morning, Deimos's head was usually still on her pillow, while any pillow for Phobos was always on the floor near his bed.

There are some other web-pages which are dog-centered:

Animal Intelligence. Does It Exist?
Animal Insight, Intelligence, Logic

My Dogs - Their Chores
Birthday Calendar for Dogs
Dogs Are Being Exterminated in the United States
Dog on Snow Skis - My Dog Meatball

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in November 1998.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago