When we adopted Teddy, the backstory we got about him was a little sketchy. Teddy had apparently belonged to a woman — one volunteer said she was elderly, one said she was younger — who mostly kept him outside. Or maybe she didn’t let him out enough. And was he brought in because the lady couldn’t care for him anymore, or because she was moving? No one could quite remember. All we knew about him for sure was what we could observe. He was black, fuzzy, and really excited to meet us.
Over the next few months, he began surprising us with little glimpses of his “true self,” things that we would only have otherwise known if we had been able to ask him. Turned out he was already housebroken. He was allergic to some grains, but not others. We were surprised that he knew to go get a ball but didn’t know how to bring it back. But the best surprise Teddy showed us in those first few months came the second time I took him hiking, and has now become a regular part of our lives together.
The first few times we had taken Teddy to Eno River State Park, we’d been on trails that don’t prominently feature water. When I brought him back to the park by myself, I decided to give him a little variety. We went on a different trail. This one ended at a nice natural pool, or “swimming hole.” The closer we got to the water, the more interested Teddy seemed to be.
Finally, standing on the bank of the Eno, I reached down and picked up a decent-sized stick. Teddy was watching me, but as far as I knew he had never fetched a stick and wouldn’t know what to do if I threw it. I checked to make sure there weren’t any other hikers or dogs in the immediate vicinity, then unhooked Teddy’s leash and hurled the stick into the river. Without hesitation, Teddy leaped in after the stick and swam towards it.
“Water dog!” I said, to no one in particular, as he retrieved the stick and swam back to shore with it. I laughed. I was so delighted that this mystery mutt was a swimmer. Not just a swimmer, but a swimmer who also fetched!
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. When trying to figure out what breed Teddy might be — Border Collie? Lab? Chow? — we noticed he had webbed toes. But we didn’t know if had ever been near the water, let alone gone swimming. And there he was, swimming from shore to stick and back again for what seemed like a half hour. Since that day, any time we’re near a body of water (in which swimming is allowed), Teddy goes wild. And because I now know how much he loves to swim, I always chuck a stick into the water to watch my “water dog” do his thing.
How has your dog surprised you? Has that surprise changed the way you interact?
Last weekend my dog started feeling around for sticks on the bottom of a pond with his front feet. It’s the strangest thing that I’ve ever seen a dog do. He’s gotten really good at finding the sticks. Now, as soon as he gets to a pond, he starts walking all around it so that he can find all of the sticks, which he eventually extracts with his mouth. It’s so funny to watch!
@Dexters mom I always get a kick out of seeing Teddy use his front paws “like hands”. Thanks for sharing! – Nick
Charka, my expert, is a strong swimmer/retriever. She has a lab and a golden that we used to visit the dog park with (on the Mississippi). Charka’s swimming is very retriever-ish and her favorite sport is dock jumping. Eighty pounds of GSD is not going to hit world class distance… but, she does fine and is absolutely crazy to jump. And the spectators love seeing the unusual breed and the big splash.
The enthusiasm/craziness/addiction to jumping is probably the biggest surprise. She just cannot wait to go again… and again… and again. I expected the problem solving; I expected the speed and physical ability; I never expected water addiction from a GSD 🙂
BTW, I have to agree that Charka’s use of paw and jaw in manipulating objects is amazing to watch.
PaulBrady That sounds like a great site, seeing Charka fly into the water! What a wonderful surprise. – Nick
My “Socialite” Ozzie communicates both verbally and non-verbally. Couple of examples:
When we arrive at our training class or other dog related activity Ozzie, on arrival, will stop and give a “WOO-WOO” to all his doggie friends as if to say “Okay, I’m here, you can start now.”
A non-verbal example is when we’re playing “get it” Ozzie will bring the toy to me, place it a foot or so in front of me. He then places his paw on the toy, makes eye contact as if to say “Just try to get it!”
Having a communicative dog is so fun…. of course having any dog is fun!
SusanEdminster I’m jealous! Teddy still has trouble reading my pointing gestures. It’s amazing how different they can be from dog to dog. – Nick
Sunny (“Socialite”) has surprised me with his empathy and social skills both with people and other dogs. He has stepped in at a dog park to prevent an older dog from harassing a younger, smaller dog. He’s successfully taught a much smaller fearful terrier (a Westie) to come out from under her owner’s feet and play (by lying on the ground near the Westie and making play faces and wiggling). He’s a rescue dog of uncertain origin. His DNA test confirms the Airedale Terrier heritage (which is pretty easy to see) and various coon hound ancestors (easy to hear when he’s excitedly chasing a rabbit or other small animal). He also is very subdued around Alzheimer’s patients and other infirm people while bouncing to greet people who are not. He’s mostly motivated by sniffing and marking opportunities and is fearful of novelty so he’s also been an education in motivating, training and socializing dogs generally.
@Sunnys Companion Sounds like Sunny is really living up to his Socialite name. I love hearing about dogs teaching other dogs. Thanks for sharing!
We noticed that our Aussie realizes that people can see things from a different visual perspective. When her tennis ball was in a stream and hidden from view, she could tell that we could see it from a bridge over the stream. She came up on the bridge and looked down to find it. After failing to retrieve it from the stream, she came up on the bridge to look down a second time and then was able to get it. This wasn’t just following our gaze but rather moving to see things from our viewpoint.
@Mike Those moments when we can see our dogs brains’ at work, especially when they’re using us for information, are very cool! Thanks for sharing, Mike.
My 18 month old Border Collie / Cattle Dog cross continues to impress me! He loves to supervise my gardening including watering with the sprinkler and when thirsty likes to drink from and play with the water jet. I recently lost the washer from inside the nozzle so couldn’t use it and looked for the washer in the 3 places I trade out nozzles / sprinkler heads. To no avail. Put it on the shopping list for the hardware store “new 2 inch washer”. Several days later, Tristan was hanging out with me as usual and set up a ruckus in the middle of the grass, pawing at the ground, barking, yelping. Worried he’d been stung by an insect, I ran over, to find the washer !!! Who’d have thunk it!
My husband and I have owned and bred several Vizslas. One special boy named Adobe had some very interesting talents. Over the years, I used a small mirror propped up on the ground in front of our television set to practice show stacking young puppies, which included Adobe when he was a youngster. I would bring out the mirror to use for a new puppy. I’m not sure when Adobe began this behavior, but he began to become fascinated with the mirror. At first he would look at himself in the mirror and I thought he thought it was another dog in the mirror. However, he did an experiment, which totally amazed us. He took a ball and placed it in front the mirror. He then rolled the ball and looked at the reflection of the ball moving in the mirror. He did this several times. Adobe kept nudging the ball and watching it move and then would look at the ball again. I don’t remember when this next part came about, but Adobe would then position himself in front of the mirror and watch us and the other dogs. My husband thought it would be funny to creep up to Adobe and try to scare him, but Adobe wagging his tail watched him in the mirror until my husband had almost reached him. Adobe then turned around and play attacked my husband. Adobe loved this game, so he would sit himself in front of the mirror hoping my husband would play the game again. We then began giving him a command to “go look in the mirror” and he would sit/position himself so he could watch us. We thought it might be fun to have him catch a toy while he looked in the mirror. We asked him to “go look in the mirror” and then he watched while we tossed a toy to him. It took him a while to figure out the timing of when to turn around to catch the toy in mid air. Adobe became very good at watching the toy fly through the air and at the last moment turn around and catch the toy. He absolutely loved this game. He would find a toy, give it to one of us and then sit in front of the mirror. At the time, we did not own a good video camera so we never caught it on tape. However, several of our friends witnessed and played this game with Adobe. He loved to show off.
I was encouraged by a friend to post this behavior here. I have not heard of any other dogs doing this and would be interested in knowing about more dogs with this ability. Unfortunately, Adobe passed away in 2010. Looking forward to any comments.
Poquito Amazing story… I had been told that dogs cannot recognize the image as ‘self’. Soooo, have never played with Charks (my fur bud) and mirrors. I’ll be looking for a kid-proof mirror this weekend :-)))
I’m not quite certain these are actual communications from our dog M, or just coincidences… but she seems to be a pretty good communicator regardless. The first example is when she had a tummy ache and my partner was on the phone chatting. He said he could hear her tummy rumbling, and she was lying around uncomfortably. At one point she scratched his knee (which she does rarely, perhaps sometimes to say she’s had enough dog park time) and then walked toward the door, turned around halfway to see if he was watching, then sat in front of the door. He got the hint, and she spent most of the time eating grass outside. A second time, it was about the 3 hour window for her evening walk, and we ended up at our neighbour’s place chatting. When we got back to our flat, she went straight to one of my sneakers, picked it up, and took it to the rug. I was surprised and about to yell at her–she *very* *very* rarely picks up or chews with things that are not her toys–when I realised the time and figured it could be a hint that she needed to go outside. Finally, a related incident is when we had a plastic water bowl, and I had not noticed that it was empty. I heard all this clanging and saw her playing with the water bowl upside down. She was apparently was thirsty bc she drank a lot after we filled it. It’s an incident that happened a few times before we decided to get a heavier bowl. It’s hard to tell if we are anthropomorphising…
I played the Treat-on-a-String game with my dog, Zeus. Well, his testing shows that he’s rather intelligent, but his solution to the problem surprised me. After trying to stick his nose through the fence where the treat lay withoiut success, he stood back and thought about it for a moment. You could almost hear the gears grinding in his brain. I expected that eventually he’d grab the string in his teeth and pull the treat through the fence – that’s what dogs do, use their mouth and teeth -, but ‘no’ Zeus’ clawed at the string until he wound it around his paw then pull the treat to him with his paw. Isn’t that what a human would do; grab the string with his hand and pull the object to him?
My dog, Zeus, bargains with me; or, at least so it seems. It began when he was begging from me, but I didn’t know what it was that he wanted. Then, he went and got one of his favorite toys and dropped it in front of me. I thought he wanted to play, but I tried that and he showed no interest in play. I took me a while to figure it out, but in the end, after several repittions of this behaviour it became apparent that the message he’s trying to get across is, “I’ll give you my favorite thing if you’ll do as I ask.”