Do you wonder if your bird dog is intelligent? I think about intelligence all the time and try to evaluate it in my dogs. Over the years, I have asked a number of pro-trainers how they define it. One of these trainers was Dave Walker, and he said intelligence and natural ability were the same things. The more intelligent the dog, the more natural ability he had. It took me a while to understand what Dave was saying because I was thinking about intelligence in human terms, kind of like a dog IQ test, but intelligence is best viewed in relationship to a breed’s purpose. If the breed’s purpose is to find birds, intelligence is measured by how successfully these dogs hunt or, as Dave said, their natural ability. I began studying my pups to evaluate their natural ability.
I asked George Tracy how he defined intelligence, and he said he looked at delayed chase as an indicator of a dog’s intelligence. Delayed chase is when a dog returns to birds he previously found instead of continuing forward with the handler. Without a doubt, a dog that returns to birds demonstrates an ability to learn from experience. While delayed chase is frowned upon in field trials and dogs are penalized for it, George said it was an important quality to look for, and I began looking for delayed chase in my pups. I ran some pups together and let them find birds. After a couple of day, I ran them again on the same course and watched closely to see if they returned to spots where they had previously found birds. Some pups went right back to these spots. Some slowed down as they went by, and some gave no indication. One pup actually pointed where he had found birds, and I figured he would be a real challenge to train. I was right, and once formal training began, he was so intelligent I had trouble staying one-step ahead of him.
I asked Maurice Lindley how he measured intelligence. He said most intelligent dogs have a calm confident attitude. He also said they figured out things faster and described four new dogs he recently got in for training. “When I began check-cording them, one dog was still pulling against the pinch-collar after thirty-minutes of walking him around. The other three were giving to the pressure after five minutes. How quick a dog figures out the pinch-collar pressure tells me a lot about the dog’s intelligence. Dogs that require repeated firm pressure are not as intelligent as dogs that give in.”
I already knew about dogs that figured out things. These dogs were mentally quick and used all their senses. In the training field, they remembered where birds were planted. They quickly learned to trail foot scent or 4-wheeler tracks to find birds, and some started getting birdy when they came across scent left from the exhaust pipe where I stopped to plant birds. Some even figured out they could listen for the click of the releaser lid before it opened and dove for the bird before I realized what was happening.
Most well-bred dogs are smart, but the real intelligent ones can be a challenge to train especially for amateurs. As a breeder and field trialer, I want intelligent dogs and believe they are superior bird dogs, but I am attracted to them because they make me sharp, keep me on my toes and teach me a lot more than I teach them. To quote a successful horseback pro-trainer, “Intelligent dogs are more fun to train.” I should add—if you know what you are doing.