Monday, December 30, 2013

Is intelligence a good thing in an animal?

We were at a party the other night and a guy told a story of a man who was bragging to his vet about how smart his puppy was.  The vet shook his head and laughed.  He said, "you want a dumb dog, not a smart one".   Most of us who have owned dogs (any animal, really) understand why this might make sense.  We may not want a dumb dog but we probably don't want a dog that's so smart it gets bored easily and wreaks havoc on our home or can outsmart us. 

But how smart is too smart or smart enough?  Here's a smart little guy of mine.
He seems content to stay in his cage most of the time, chattering away.  When I let him out he eventually heads back to his cage.  I don't think he's bored in there.  I think he feels safe and happy.  He knows hundreds of words and sounds but usually they're random  and not always appropriate for what's going on.  He may ask me where I am when I'm standing in front of him.  He will also ask this 20 times in a row.  But then, how smart am I when I answer him every time?  He knows if he asks me questions he'll get a response from me, which seems to make him happy.  Smart?  Maybe.

People say pigs are smart.  I'm not sold on that.  My pigs test the electric fence over and over again.  I've seen a few touch it with their nose and squeal in pain more than a few times in one day.   I think a lot of what pigs do or how they react is more instinct and food motivated than anything else.  They recognize my car as a deli on wheels.   They know I'm their waitress.  If they learn to do tricks it's because they receive a treat as a reward. They open gates, build nests and wallows and do all kinds of things I'm fascinated by but I'm not sure if it's because they're smart, strong, or trying to make themselves more comfortable.  Here's a blog posting by someone else about how dumb/smart his pigs are  He says it better than I.  He's raised hundreds and hundreds of pigs.  Those of you raising pigs will enjoy his blog.

When I told a friend I was getting a cow he said, "cows are dumb".  Well, I certainly don't think Raisa is dumb but I haven't figured out yet if she's smart either.  She acts very much like most of my other animals.  That is to say, she's affectionate, comes to me for treats and learned our routine quickly.  I'd say she's as smart as I'd like her to be.  Today she head-butted me.  She'd never done that before.  I know why she did it though.  She thought I came to feed her and when I didn't she let me know how she felt about it.  I was sure not to give her any treats after that.  Raisa does have a lot of personality but whether that means she's smart or not, I don't know.  The farrier thought she seemed way more playful and bouncy than a 7 year old cow usually is.  She raises cattle.

I can definitely see how some of my goats are smarter than others.  Luti, the herd queen, is probably the smartest.  I just went back over old blog posts and saw I've blogged about my animals' intelligence more than once so apparently I'm one of those people who brag about how smart her animals are.  Here's one of when I blogged about how smart Luti is because she can open stall latches.  Luti follows Keri very closely, knowing what Keri's job is.  The other goats follow Luti. 

Turkeys?  Not smart.  Funny though.

I'm told donkeys are smart and I'm pretty sure this is true.  Willo is one of those animals who, because she's smart, is also feisty, bossy and knows how to push my buttons.  She's also the boss of other animals.  I'm finding that the smartest in a bunch seems to be the leader.   Luti and Willo are examples of this.  In the pigs' case, Roxie is the boss but that mostly has to do with size, I think.

Of all my animals Keri gets the opportunity to show me how smart she is the most.  If you're a guest here and only have a short time to get to know her you'll think she's just a bouncy, lunatic of a dog.  But if you have the chance to spend more time with her you'll see there's more inside that fluffy head than you may have first thought. 

Today the farrier was here and Keri danced around her insanely as usual then disappeared to find her charges.  She laid in the grass and watched them graze.  Soon Mattox and Black Olive (two black piglets) showed up and Keri began pawing and chasing them.  I yelled at her to leave them alone until I realized what she was doing.  She got on the far side of them and herded them back to the fence where the other pigs were.  After they ducked under their fence Keri turned, looked at me and wagged her tail.  I've seen her herd chickens where she thinks they belong too.  I didn't know this was instinctive in a Great Pyrenees.  I thought they just guarded.  I told the farrier about Keri and the raccoon and we decided that maybe Keri knew the animal was sick and she knew better than to bite it and that's why she kept putting herself between it, and the goats and me.  I believe Keri is much happier in the field than up here in the smaller fence.  There's more for her to do over there.  I wonder how she'll feel about moving back here in March when it's time for the goats to kid.  She's one of those dogs that might be trouble inside a house. 

I've been raising livestock for 6 years now and I love how they keep entertaining, surprising and teaching me things.  I guess I'm one of those creatures that isn't so smart that I get bored easily.


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