Primitive Instincts

The Myth: Your dog is smarter than you.

Here are common phrases I hear from dog owners:

“I’m telling you, this dog is really smart.”

“I want my dog to listen to what I say, but he’s smarter than me.”

“My dog knows better, she’s smarter than that.”

"Um, Ow. Yeah, I know, believe me, I feel even dumber than I look. It's hard to explain. I just couldn't help myself."

Okay, so maybe dogs aren’t THAT smart.

A dog trainer friend of mine was in upstate New York over the weekend.  She was deep in the woods with her dogs when she realized she hadn’t seen her retriever-malamute mix for a while.  She whistled a couple of times and he didn’t respond.

“That’s weird,” she thought, expecting his usually trustworthy recall.

Then her brother and boyfriend heard the sound of breaking twigs.  They all walked quickly in that direction to find the source.  As they got closer to the noise, there was the big golden dog, about 30 feet away, digging furiously at a hollowed log.  Pieces of soft bark were falling to the ground as his bear-like claws pounded the wood.  You could hear him sniffing obsessively as his nose burrowed into the log, inching closer to the mysterious treasure inside.  They all stood behind the big dog, wondering what he would find.  Then he raised his face and turned.  They saw the needles. Porcupine.

“Huhhhhhh,” they all inhaled big, with wide eyes and dropped jaws.

Scroll up and look at that picture again.  Needles in his muzzle, nose, nostrils, lips, tongue.  He’s lucky he didn’t get any in his eyes.  That is serious.  Porcupine needles aren’t poisonous but they aren’t easy to remove.  Let’s just say a dog can’t knock them out with a few swipes of the paw.  My friend had to bring her dog to the emergency vet where he was completely sedated.  Then they pulled out each quill, one by one.

I often wonder why some dogs are so stupid about this sort of thing.  I’ve heard many stories about dogs who have had this experience and then do it AGAIN.  Are you kidding me?  Again?  My own husky-shepherd mix used to get sprayed by skunks over and over and over.  Despite the fact that he would come back to me whining, wincing, and half-blind with his eyes and nose full of putrid stinging skunk-spray.  Dude – duh.

The Real Deal: When it comes to self-control, dogs can be pretty stupid.  Maybe oblivious is a better adjective.  Many dogs are guided by the instinctive hunting desire of their wolf ancestors, but they don’t have the thoughtful pursuit of prey that wolves do.  No control.  Just, “Yaaaaaa – there’s a CRITTER!   Yah!  Let’s get that f–ing critter, Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Strong prey drive is a survival instinct for a wolf.  But many dogs did NOT inherit the other part of being a good hunter – thoughtful, prudent pursuit.  I see this kind of impulsiveness in other animals.  Survival instincts from the far distant past get blown out of proportion.  Like, with humans.  There was a time when our human ancestors needed to eat a lot of fat in order to survive harsh winters.  That doesn’t apply anymore.  But, many people still can’t say no to french fries at the drive-through or ice cream tubs in the freezer (me included on the ice cream).  Or even worse for some people, the most powerful instinct of all – SEX.  There was a time when a male human was hard-wired to spread his genes to as many females as possible, to be obsessed with sex.  That’s not as productive in modern times.  Just ask Tiger Woods.

Let’s face it.  It doesn’t matter what species you are.  Sometimes core instincts take over regardless of the big picture.  Primitive drives can be hard to control, even when acting on them is incredibly stupid.

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Read Part 2 of this story.

By the way…  If you or a friend have an interesting dog story to share, please email me about it.  It might be great for The Real Deal on Dogs.  Thanks. -David

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4 Responses to “Primitive Instincts”

  1. Lindsey Ryan Says:

    Ouch!!!!!! Not a big fan of skunked dog but I’d take it over a porcupine any day.

  2. Francis Anderson Says:

    OUCH!! That is a painful picture!! I have a crazy dog who is into digging!! I’ll think of a funny story and send it your way!! That pic is tough to beat tho 🙂

  3. Carol Griffin Says:

    Delightful article!! Our dog LOVES to eat things that make him sick — as you say — over and over again. Poor thing: he can’t help it!

  4. Krooth Says:

    Super funny. Loved reading thru this article. But the parts where u say dogs are stupid annoys me. 😛
    AND that picture makes me feel sooo sad. Poor silly guy. (oops did i say silly?!)

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