Queen Emmy the Clever


At lunch Friday, I was talking to a few colleagues about how smart our pets can be. I haven’t done gratuitous dog-blogging in a while, and it’s been a long week, so here are some of the more impressive of our Emmy’s intellectual achievements:

She’s managed to learn two or three English phrases entirely on her own. There are a few phrases like “Are you hungry?” and “Do you want to go for a walk?” that we deliberately used with her from the beginning, but a few months after we got her, I said to Kate, “What do you think, is it time for bed?” and the dog jumped up from her pillow and ran into her crate. She gets a handful of treats when we put her in the crate, you see, so she’s almost always happy to go in there. And even when she’s not enthusiastic about hearing it, “Time for bed” works to get her to go in the crate.

The other one she definitely got on her own was “Last Call,” which Kate and I used to refer to the nightly trip into he back yard shortly before bedtime. Around 9:00, she starts to get sort of antsy, because she knows it’s about time for last call, and on at least one occasion, she’s run to the back door when I yelled “That’s a lame-ass call!” at a sports official on tv.

It’s not entirely clear whether she picked up “Squirrels” on her own, or through deliberate action. Like “Time for bed” and “last call,” though, she’s learned it well enough that we have to find other ways to refer to bushy-tailed treerats, because their proper name sends her directly to the back door.

She’s also got an excellent sense of our daily routine. In the morning, she’ll hang around my office while I play with the computer, and she’ll flop on the upstairs landing while I shower and shave and get dressed. The minute I start brushing my teeth, though, she goes downstairs, and heads for her crate. The other things are all things that I do even when I’m staying home to play with her and give her treats (in her opinion, anyway), but brushing my teeth is a sure sign I’m headed out of the house.

She can also detect deviations from routine. We usually feed her just before we sit down to dinner, and if we give her food without sitting down at the table ourselves, she knows that we’re going out, and heads for the crate. She’ll also self-crate if we start putting on shoes and jackets and stuff without first giving her food– either of those is a sure sign that Kate and I are headed out to dinner.

Of course, there are other times when she’s dumb as a rock, and I don’t mean a smart rock. And she has some really strange stubborn quirks– she’ll only go up or down stairs on the left side, for example, and gets visibly distressed if there’s anything in her path that forces her to go around it to the right. In a lot of ways, though, she’s remarkably clever at figuring out what her humans are up to.

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