Sparky coming when recalled. (Note the presence of water, but no bathtub.)
I've always hated comparisons of human intelligence to animal intelligence, which usually equate animal minds to that of a young human. It's just not true: animals, especially dogs, are much smarter than humans. Our dog Sparky continually outsmarts us, and we're not the dumbest of the breed. (I'd be happy to provide SAT scores as proof.)
The other day we were reminded of this rather pointedly. My husband went upstairs and then told Sparky to "Come!" I was sitting next to Sparky, and clearly, he heard the command, which was issued in a sharp, loud voice. Normally this elicits an immediate response, particularly inside the house, where there are no squirrels, deer, or cows to distract him. In fact, I'd place the odds of compliance to a recall command inside at virtually 100%. I did see his ears perk up—clearly he'd heard the command. That wasn't the problem.
So then my husband called again. No response, other than a clear indication to me that he'd heard the command. He didn't budge from his sitting position next to me. Very odd, especially since I'd given him no indication that better rewards would be forthcoming from me. Again and again my husband called him from upstairs, finally giving up in frustration after four or five attempts.
We both wondered why Sparky decided to ignore the recall, which we've worked on so hard. Lately his recall has been a bit lax, especially while we're walking in the woods, so we've decided to get back to basics (we are, remember, highly intelligent creatures who know a thing or two about dog training, due to our amazing cognitive abilities and literacy skills). Calling him from inside the house is a no-brainer, a level one on the recall scale.
Yet clearly our dog had failed at this simple task.
Then my husband called Sparky from the living room downstairs. Again, Sparky was sitting next to me, but this time he sprang into action upon hearing the sharp "Come!" He flew around the door and right to my husband, happily wagging his tail. He even seemed relieved that finally he was able to respond to the recall.
What had happened? Well, we put our cognitive minds to work, and figured out what Sparky had already deduced: A "Come!" command issued from upstairs has a high probability—now—of ending in a bath. He does not like baths, even more than he likes whatever treat was on offer for a sharp recall. So he wisely decided to ignore the call to go upstairs. (I could almost see the gears turning in his advanced brain as he sat there, looking toward the voice he heard.)
We'd made a fatal mistake. Early on in recall training, I reminded my husband (who always gives the baths, using the tub upstairs) to never use our precious recall prior to a bath. Never, ever, associate the recall with a bad consequence, like a bath, or the leash snapping on, or god forbid, punishment. (You should train your dog that a recall might mean the leash snapping on, but then it goes right back off, with more off-leash fun time until finally the leash goes on for good.)
But time passed, and my husband, with his superior cognitive skills, realized the best tool he had (humans are great at using tools, remember) was issuing the short word "come" when he needed to get the dog to a certain place, namely the side of the bathtub. So the last couple of times he bathed the dog, he brought a handful of rewards upstairs, called the dog, gave him some treats, and then plopped him in the tub for a hated bath.
Human intelligence win! Train the dog to come, then use it for your own nefarious purposes. Right?
How quickly we forgot how quickly dogs learn. After hearing his named called from upstairs—notice the key difference—only a couple of times, with the end result being, yes, a reward BUT ALSO the detestable experience of a bath, Sparky learned that he should never, ever, come when called by someone upstairs.
This is why humans will never outsmart dogs. They are just too clever.