Recently, we adopted little Ollie from a rescue organization. Ollie is adorable and mischievous. He has limitless energy and is as curious as a little pup can be. Given his propensity to constantly stay next to me, I recently wondered if we should have named him Shadow instead. In truth, I did more than wonder; I asked him. Out loud. It went like this: just after walking into the kitchen and turning around, surprised to find that a previously sleeping Ollie was now sitting next to my left ankle, I mused aloud. “Ollie! What are you doing here, sleepy boy? Should we have named you Shadow!?” He looked at me. We started walking into the living room. My phone rang. He cocked his head to the side, unsure of this new sound. “That’s my phone ringing. It’s okay,” I told him, as I sat down at the coffee table. He laid down next to me and fell asleep.
This is my new M.O. – constant narration. I find myself narrating all of my actions. In part, I do this because I don’t see Ollie as “just a dog,” in the way that some people view dogs as being as important a part of the room as the coffee table itself. They wouldn’t narrate their afternoon to a table, of course, so they don’t narrate it to their dog. Unfortunately, for both these people and their dogs, they are doing little to help their pups become smarter.
According to research from Stan Coren, “you improve the IQ of your dog, the same way you improve the IQ of your kids. And that is, you talk to them all the time. And you give them as many different experiences as you can. You see, the more the dog has to think about, the more the dog has to do, the brighter the dog becomes.” Coren goes on to explain that while you can’t change the natural level of intelligence of your pup, their “native smarts,” you can change their crystallized intelligence (the sum of what they have learned) by simply teaching them more things. Even more interesting is his disclosure that the more dogs learn, the more they want to – and can – learn.
Essentially, we can prime dogs to learn more easily, teach them more things, and ultimately improve their overall intelligence, simply by exposing them to new situations and talking to them about anything and everything. People often say that they talk to their dogs because the dogs listen – and they don’t talk back. But just because they don’t talk back doesn’t mean that they do not understand.
While I enjoyed reading about the research on improving canine IQ, it did not come as a surprise. The first day that Ollie came to live with us, my Mom told me on the phone that I was to “talk to him, all the time, and never stop.” So began my active narration of every day life. “Good morning, my Ollie!” “Let’s walk to the elevator.” “Mommy is making breakfast for Ollie!” “Please do not eat squirrels.” I talk to Ollie so much that I recently told my fiancé that I would only be half-surprised if one day, he just answered me back. “Well,” I can imagine him saying, “if you’re making lunch for yourself, can you at least toss me a treat?”
While it is unlikely that Ollie will ever burst out in conversation (or in song, but how remarkable that would be!), I take comfort knowing that my all-day play-by-play is helping him to learn and become more intelligent. People are surprised that he knows so much already, and I know it is only getting better. After all, the average dog is as intelligent as a two-year-old child and has a vocabulary of 165 – 250 words, and in my unbiased opinion, Ollie is way beyond average.
If you’re looking to increase the intelligence of your pup, try describing the process of making them dinner. If you put them in the crate before heading out for the night, tell them that they are a very good pup, that you love them, and that you will be back very soon. Talk – a lot – and help expose your little pooch to as much as possible, socially and verbally.
As I always say, there are no dumb dogs, only silent owners. Woof.