Years ago I finally found myself in a place where I could get a DOG! I was so excited and had my heart set on a smart one. An Australian Shepherd to be exact. During my search I met a wonderful breeder who had a litter planned that was going to be “bred for brains”. PERFECT! I could see it all… my smart dog would be just like Lassie! She would tell me Timmy fell in the well or that the bad guys were hiding out at the abandoned barn. You know… the usual smart dog things that smart dogs do.
I obviously knew all about smart dogs, so I couldn’t quite understand why the breeder kept asking, “Are you sure?” … of course I was sure! Why did she keep saying this? I knew I wanted a smart dog and would not be deterred.
In her first full day with us, my new puppy Phebe learned “sit”, “leave it”, and began to fetch… she was SO SMART! I beamed like a proud momma. I knew it! She was exactly what I wanted. As time passed however, things began to change. My beautiful smart puppy grew and had more and more energy and fewer puppy naps. Along with that, she had more courage and began testing her world.
My sweet puppy swiftly became an expert in the art of cat (dog) burglary. Every situation became an opportunity in Phebe’s eyes. Shoes, gloves, basically anything that wasn’t nailed down was hers to explore, be it for eating, play or dissection. Even in her “obedience” class she managed to mug a fellow student. Yes, “mug”. On recall, she ran to me, but quickly swerved and in one swift move jumped up, grabbed a woman’s treat bag and ran off with the goods! The room erupted in laughter and I was so embarrassed. My dog was a pickpocket!! “Ok Oliver Twist, give back the bag and let’s go home.” I was pretty sure Lassie didn’t mug people. I was also certain Lassie didn’t break into secured tote bags, open doors and cabinets, climb furniture, shred mail or a myriad of other things that smart dogs actually do.
I was defeated. My smart dog had me running in circles but I finally understood what “smart,” meant. It meant mischievous, clever, focused on a goal and most importantly, that there was no such thing as an obstacle, just wonderful problems to be solved. I was DEFINITELY in over my head.
The best memory, though, is of Phebe and the fortune cookies. One evening we ordered Chinese food for dinner and I left the take out box with several fortune cookies on the dining room table. That’s it. Napkins, chopsticks, and a few cookies in their wrapper. No real “food”. I ran out for a quick errand and returned to find the contents of the box on the floor.
Now normally a dog would scarf the cookies up, plastic wrappers and all. Others might use a little more finesse and get the wrappers off, but the paper fortune nestled inside each cookie would be in pieces if not completely eaten. Not true for Phebe of course. She meticulously opened the wrappers, ate the cookies, and left the paper fortunes perfectly intact on the floor. As I wondered to myself if she maybe had hidden opposable thumbs I wasn’t aware of; I reached down and picked up a fortune. It read, “Your intelligence and exuberance are often misunderstood.” I burst out laughing. How perfect for her! Yes Phebe, your intelligence and exuberance WERE often misunderstood. Phebe may not have been perfect like Lassie, but if it came to a test of ingenuity and resourcefulness, I think I know who would have come out on top.
I placed her fortune on my refrigerator to always remind me that while a dog’s behavior may be seen as misbehaving, it could also be seen as a smart dog just being smart. It still sits on my refrigerator today, making me smile every time I see it. As they say, be careful what you ask for. You just may get it!