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Today’s news brings an article about how smart dogs are. They begin by acknowledging that the research they describe will come as no surprise to dog people.   A dog’s vocabulary, researchers have found, can run to some 250 words, they understand gesture and inflection, can count a little, do simple mathematical calculations and open the refrigerator.

Okay, so I added that last one. That might be Crispin’s special skill.

Professor Stanley Coren at the University of British Columbia compares the intelligence of the dog to that of a 2 year old human child.

I, for one, am a believer.  Our two are a little (ahem) unruly, but one thing we have done properly  is to crate train them well. They love their crates. Dinah, for various and sundry reasons, no longer sleeps in her crate, though she will go there if we ask her to, but Crispin simply adores his. We chalk some of this up to the fact that we have never used the crates to punish the dogs, they really only go in them to sleep (or if, say, the plumber has to come here and would rather work without any canine assistance), and they always get a dog biscuit once they’re inside.

And some of it simply to smarts.

Crispin’s bedtime is around 10:00 at night, and if we let it slip, he comes and seeks us out and stares at us pointedly until we say, “Time for bed,” at which point he races to the crate. If it’s latched, he unlatches it and waits for us inside while we get a biscuit from the box. And that’s it–typically, we don’t hear from him again until he hears one of us getting up in the morning.

Lately I’ve been trying out substitutes for “time for bed.” The other night I asked him, “Are you tired now?” and off he ran to the crate.

Last night First Child was making himself a snack and I was hanging out in the kitchen with him. Crispin came in and assumed the “please let me go to bed now” pose.

I looked down at him and asked, “Would you like me to read you a story?”

Bang–you never saw a dog run so fast. He beat me to the crate, happily accepted his bisucuit, and settled down to sleep.

First Child was duly impressed.

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At first we blamed it on each other. But now we’ve got it figured out.

Our dogs love their crates.* They go happily to them at bedtime, and if we stay up later than what they consider a respectable hour, they come and let us know it’s time to open them up so they can go to bed. We credit this amazing phenomenon to the fact that we’ve never used crates for punishment or time-outs, and that each one gets to take a biscuit to bed at night. Also to the fact that the crates are lined with cushy beds I made by covering large pieces of upholstery foam with material from a brand new plushy Ralph Lauren throw I got at Goodwill for $6.  Hell, I’d like to sleep there.

In fact, they like these beds so much that we have to close and latch the crates during the daytime, or Crispin pulls them out of the crates, drags them through the house, and  (remember, this is Crispin) eats them.

Only now winter is icumen in, and the floors in this old house are, admittedly, chilly. The other day we came in to the room where the crates are and found Crispin comfortably ensconced in his cozy bed in the middle of the day. I fussed at the Pack Leader for not latching the door that morning.

The next day we found his bed in the middle of the kitchen floor, and the crate wide open. The Pack Leader fussed at me for not latching the crate door.

We became extra vigilant about firmly latching the door.

The door continued to open mysteriously.

Yesterday I stood Crispin in front of the securely latched door and dropped a biscuit into the locked crate from the top. Dog outside. Biscuit inside.

“Okay, boy,” I said. “Show me how you do it. Get the biscuit.”

He gave me one of his patented winsome looks and said clearly, “I would love to eat that biscuit, but I am just a humble dog and have no understanding of latches.”

I left the room.  I heard the sound of a latch being thrown back. And then the sound of a biscuit being crunched.  And I’m pretty sure I heard some snickering after that.

We began to seriously consider a theory bandied about on the Airedale List, an online mailing list for airedale people whose collective wisdom has helped us weather many a crisis. The theory is that airedales have cleverly disguised Swiss Army Paws with a variety of useful tools contained within.  One flick of those hairy paws brings up the right implement for, say,

  • standing on your purse and thus dialing 911 on your cell phone
  • Opening ziplock bags
  • Pulling open the bread drawer
  • Prying the lid off a jar of peanut butter
  • Picking their teeth to remove any traces of evidence that they might have had something to do with the missing hamburger

But today he came clean. I found him happily snoozing on his cozy designer bed and invited him to step out of the crate. I shut and latched the door. He sighed, gave the latch one flip with his nose, swung the door open, and resumed his nap.

I didn’t have the heart to make him come out again.

*looking at the close-up of the latch, I now wonder whether he wasn’t pointing out that it’s overdue for a little clean-up.  Gotta get on that.