Caesar is a Maverick!
It all started with a book
The Genius of Dogs by Dr. Brian Hare, to be exact. I love reading and anything that can help better understand Caesar is worth a read, in my opinion!
You can easily find a summary of the book if you google it, and it definitely presents an interesting theory about how dogs came to be domesticated (hint: it's not as simple as some wolf pups that that were taken in and treated as pets), but what's more interesting are the games that Dr. Hare applies when testing his theory about dogs' different kinds of intelligence.
Dr. Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, where he tests all types of breeds of dogs through simple games to assess cognitive skills (he also tried them with chimpanzees which he explains in the book). The games are available for everyone to try through Dognition, an online service where users can play a couple of the games for free (you have to pay to get all the games and it's the only way to get a full profile of your own dog).
There are six profiles in all, which you can read about here. After playing all the games Caesar was identified as a Maverick.
A note about the games:
Because all the games are treat motivated don't play them all in one sitting; spread them out or save them for a rainy day.
The games also include instructions where there are always 2 people. I usually played the games alone with Caesar, but he has a good enough "stay" command (especially with treats) that it was fine without a second person.
I prepped before one of the games to make sure
Caesar was comfortable being blindfolded.
What did I learn?
Caesar's result didn't surprise me. He's definitely not the most obedient dog; he makes it clear he can hear a command but will walk away; he chooses when he wants to obey; however, he is very social, both with dogs and people (he loves when we hike with a group of friends) and there have been a couple times where I've seen him imitate a behavior because he's watching another dog. For example, digging is a common trait amongst huskies but it's something I've never seen Caesar do until we went to a husky meet up group and there were several other huskies digging.
His level of obedience is not an indication of his attachment to us, though. In all off leash instances Caesar does like to go out on his own and will wander off out of view, but he always "check in". It's funny how expressive a dog's face is. When he comes back after running off it's pretty obvious he's looking for us, his head goes up, he's sniffing, ears alert, and if he doesn't see us we've actually seen him frantically running back or going to each person to see if they're us. The reason I know he's searching for us is because in those instances all I have to do is raise my hand, be within sight, no command, and he comes sprinting back to our side and then will run off again.
Caesar's also very aware when we're home watching him, or even sleeping and use those as opportune times to rummage through garbage or our bags if he smells food. He is definitely cunning, which some of these games predicted.
Some of the games requires the owner to point to objects to either indicate where the treat is or to falsely lead the dog. In all instances Caesar clearly looked to me for a cue, and it's obvious he understands pointing, and in the games where I had to falsely mislead him he actually looked like he was struggling: he saw where the treat was but was conflicted by my pointing. I thought that was very interesting and somewhat amusing.
So now what?
Because I know Caesar is impulsive but has a strong memory, when it comes to training I'll have to find a technique that can help curb the wild streak but builds upon repetition. I don't believe Caesar is a dog that will fare well with the dominance theory (a la Cesar Milan). I think the tactic I may rely upon more is just focusing on one thing and spending 10 minutes each day reinforcing the behavior. I'll have to start putting the theory to test.
Other book recommendations:
For those who like social science reading and/or animal behavior/evolution theories, here are some other books I recommend:
- One of my all-time favorites: Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin
- How Dogs Love Us, Gregory Berns
- Not about animals, but a really interesting read about civilization:
Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
- Also not animal focused, but a fascinating read about a woman whose cells are basically the foundation of modern medicine but has been obscured throughout history because she is black:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
👣 The fur-mom