My Dogs - Their Chores

My dogs NEVER had boring lives! Where most people seem to play with their dog for five minutes a day and the dogs had nothing to do otherwise, my dogs OFTEN had very entertaining lives.

Most people seem to TRAIN their dog to 'do tricks" like sitting up or shaking hands. My many dogs could certainly have done such things, but I never saw any point in making them 'learn tricks'. Instead, for my dogs who impressed me as having logical ability and intelligence, I tended to 'provide challenges'. This tended to include places where I would hide their loved tennis balls, and the fact that I would hide half-Milkbones all over the house while they were outside playing.

Many of my dogs were very intelligent, but two were definitely not. Titan was a sweet dog, but he probably would have been considered 'slow' by most. And Kidd was born with a number of birth defects, where he was happy, and he tried to participate in play with the (eight) other house dogs, but he simply could not. For Kidd, I would sometimes send all the other dogs outside, so he had the entire house to himself, and I would play ball with him or put several half-Milkbones ON TOP OF throw rugs. I do not believe his nose worked very well either, as he never seemed able to find a LUMP under such a throw rug, even if I would flavor the Milkbone with gravy or a piece of meat or something else I thought he might be able to sniff through the rug. But he WOULD find his treats at those times, and he was clearly proud of himself. For Titan, I could put the treats UNDER such throw rugs, but he also needed to have the entire house to himself, as his sister Mimas seemed to make a point of finding all of his before looking for the 'difficult" ones I hid for her.

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As a kid, I had had several single dogs, but it was while I was in College that my parents adopted two very young Coonhounds while on a vacation, which they said they got for me. I named them Phobos (the male) and Deimos (the female) (named after the two moons of the planet Mars).

They were both VERY intelligent, and especially Deimos, and she was also surprisingly logical. Sometimes when we would be playing in the living room, the tennis ball would roll underneath a large and heavy couch. It was fascinating to watch Deimos deal with the situation. She ALWAYS used the same system! She would go to one end of the couch and look underneath, and then she went to the other end and looked under, and then looked under the front and then the back of the couch. She then repeated this entire sequence. The whole thing took well over a minute! But she apparently determined which side was closest to the ball, and she would then always approach that side to actually try to get the ball.

Phobos was more of a brute force dog. Rather than all that analysis that Deimos would always do, Phobos would approach the front of the couch and simply jam his head under the couch, even while I was sitting on it! Even if the ball happened to be near the rear edge, he seemed to assume that he could force his way entirely under the couch if necessary.

Chores

Phobos seemed to be dedicated to wanting to 'help me' so he often followed me around. My mother then had an old 1956 Cadillac which had problems with its automatic transmission, so I wound up laying on the ground under her car, working to fix it. My mother felt some responsibility to me so she would often sit near the car while I was working on it. And Phobos would sit or lie there as well. I would sometimes tell my mother than I needed a half-inch socket or some wrench, rather than having to keep crawling out from under the car. So she would get up and bring the needed tool to me. I think Phobos was waiting for us humans to realize that he was able to do that chore, and he made his point by sliding under the car near my hand that had the tool in it.

I eventually caught on, and gave Phobos the very greasy socket that I no longer needed, and he promptly slithered out from under the car with the socket in his mouth, and he immediately went over to my mother and stuffed his nose in her hand, where he released the socket to her. He clearly understood the process that he wanted to accomplish.

My mother promptly started washing all my tools spotless clean, as she said that she did not want Phobos to have to take grease into his mouth. But from then on, from under the car, I could call out a tool, and my mother would hand the proper tool to Phobos, and he would run over and then slither under the car to hand it to me. He would then wait for me to give him the previous tool, which he took back to my mother! So he was constantly running back and forth carrying machine tools!

I have some doubt that anyone could even TEACH a dog to do such things!

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Deimos was much more 'prim' and she would NOT go underneath a "dirty" car under any conditions!

Phobos also invented another Chore for himself! My parents then got a daily newspaper, so a kid on a bike would ride by and throw a newspaper onto or near our porch. The dogs were generally not outside when the paper boy came by, but Phobos figured out the situation well enough, where the first time he was let out after 3:15, he would go to the porch to find the newspaper and he would take it back to the house door to be immediately let back in! And then he would come back out to play!

I am not really sure how Phobos did this, but the paper boy sometimes was still in the neighborhood when he saw Phobos find the paper and take it in the house. Somehow, they developed a pattern where the paper boy would throw the newspaper toward Phobos, and over following weeks and months, the paper was handed to Phobos and then the paper boy began holding his arm out holding the newspaper and Phobos would make a running jump to snatch the paper out of the air!

They both seemed to really look forward to the afternoon event, so for weeks and months, they put on a daily show! But then a near disaster happened! The paper boy's family went on vacation! A DIFFERENT kid delivered newspapers during that week. Of course, Phobos had come to expect that the paper boy held his arm out correctly and the rest, for his high-speed jump and transfer. But the new kid had never been told about this by the normal paper boy. So he simply was getting a paper out of his bag when Phobos jumped. The kid was knocked off his bike and he thought that Phobos had attacked him. Phobos was taken into the Animal Pound for a night or two.

When the vacationing kid's family returned, and the kid found that Phobos was in dog jail, the kid went to the Police to describe what had happened, and to the other kid. The kid even decided to show both the Police and the other kid what Phobos had known was SUPPOSED to happen, and they put on their daily show, and everyone was happy, and Phobos soon licked both kid's faces!

Deimos had very different Chores that she did. After she had a litter of nine puppies, and we kept three of them (Mimas, Titan and Enceladys) and she had the responsibility of holding the three leashes in her mouth. I absolutely knew that she was responsible enough to never let a leash loose, but as they got older and stronger, they seemed to enjoy running out the door in three different directions, and her poor mouth always kept all three on leash.

When Phobos and Deimos were required to be on leash themselves, I generally let each of them hold their own leash, and they would both walk near me, as though I was holding their leashes.

Both Phobos and Deimos gave themselves additional Chores, but you get the general idea of what they tended to come up with. The three puppies never seemed to come up with Chores, but Mimas had the most active mind I have ever witnessed, and she constantly amazed me. Our very old kitchen refigerator had a big vertical lever that had to be pulled to open, and sometimes at night, Mimas would be sitting in front of the open refrigerator in a dark kitchen. She never stole any food out of our fridge, and I was never sure WHY she was so focused on knowing what was in it! She also somehow invented a type of running that is only used by two species of African Antelope, a very peculiar form of running called Pronking. How could a dog figure out something like that? Mimas could open any doorknob in less than a second, whether the door had to open away from her or toward her. There is considerable logic involved in thinking out such things. She never had to swat at the doorknob, as some dogs including her own father Phobos would do to open doors. She simply stood up on her hindlegs and carefully PLACED her left forepaw on the top of the doorknob. She seemed to remember which way each doorknob had to be turned, and I never saw her fail or even take more than a second.

She caused real problems when human guests would visit our house. I would send the nine house dogs into their part of the house and then close the door, but seconds later, a herd of dogs would pass me back toward the door! I had to change that door to have the doorknob up more than six feet above the floor (where even my wife then had trouble reaching the doorknob), but it kept the dogs in their part of the house while human guests were visiting!

I will always believe that Mimas was probably frustrated that the other dogs were not very smart (by her standards). My guess is that she probably would have tried to get them to form a 'dog pyramid' so that she could have gotten up high enough to open the doorknob!

Mimas had hundreds of other times of impressing me with her logic and intelligent. Some are described in several related web-pages.

Another Chore, and a Challenge

Six of the nine house dogs in our farmhouse LOVED to play ball with a tennis ball. When they had only found one for us to play with, there was immense competition to be the one to get the ball and bring it back to me. Mimas was best at picking up the ball while still running at full speed, but when she got back maybe five feet away from me, she just let the ball loose and she apparently expected ME to be willing to also catch the ball! But when I would not, one of the other dogs would have to pick up the ball and give it to me. A couple times, I made a big production of petting and praising the other dog, especially if it was her (slower) brother Titan, and the next time after that, Mimas would jam the ball into my (right) hand, and she used her tongue to push the ball harder into my hand! The other dogs had different techniques of giving me the ball. But that is not the issue at hand here!

Sometimes, I would FAKE throw the ball, and all the dogs took a few steps out toward retrieving it. But each realized the ball was not in the air, always Mimas first, then Deimos and Phobos, and then the other three. So they would turn around to look at me, and I would have my hands up in the air, with fingers spread, trying to look like I had empty hands. Often, the slow one, Titan, would then turn around and start running for whevever the ball might be. I have big hands, and I would turn my hands around backwards, and I used my thumb to hold the (hidden) ball behind the hand. That trick worked ONCE on Deimos, when she was young, and it worked twice on Phobos, so they would come right up to me, knowing what was going on. When Mimas was impatient (which was usually!) she would run up and locate my right hand (she seemed to early on figure out that I did not throw the ball with my left hand), and she would jam the end of her nose into the ball that I was holding with my thumb, and nearly always knocked it loose! As usual, she then did NOT go to try to pick it up to give to me to throw, as I got the impression that was 'beneath' her to do!

Titan and Fluff NEVER figured out the 'hidden ball trick'!

OF course, I continued the challenges! I usually wore a tee shirt, and I would occasionally quickly stick the ball behind my neck, so I could show BOTH sides of one hand and even both hands to the dogs! I also occasionally wore pants that had a very large and loose pocket to hide the ball in. The various dogs would discover where the ball was and each got excited! Under my armpit, in a small paper bag, there was no limit to the sorts of challenges that my dogs had to deal with to get their ball so we could play!


I developed a silent communication system with Phobos and Deimos. Dolphin trainers use hand signals, so I gradually had about a dozen hand signals for Phobos and Deimos. It was generally successful.


With nine house dogs, it was financially necessary that most of the time they ate dry dog food, a fifty-pound-bag each day. But on their many birthdays (seven each year for each dog!) I liked to give them all canned food, which they clearly liked better. But I had noticed that most of the dogs were not 'enthusiastic' for really cheap canned dog food, and much more for the name brands. So I thought I was going to give them each some choice! In our Pantry, I arranged seven different shelves to each have a different brand and flavor of canned dog food, all on the second shelf up from the floor. What I had planned was to somehow encourage each dog to go into the Pantry and bring out a specific can for himself or herself! I figured that if I could get ONE of the dogs to start doing that (on a signal when we were going to have canned food), then the others would see and catch on. I had hoped that Phobos might have been the first to catch on, and he DID occasionally go into the Pantry to bring out a can, but someties the can was corn or beans, so I guess he never understood the premise! I had figured that he would have eventually always bring out the SAME flavor of dogfood, implying that he liked it best! That experiment never really worked.

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

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

Dogapult
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 June 2012.

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