Observations of an intelligent dog

This page was created 2003/08/25, last edited 2021/08/12

Clever dog
Climbing out of the Murray river after a swim. She hasn't used ladders much, but seemed to learn fairly quickly.
Vocabulary, alphabetical order
Bad dog
Drop (lie down)
Drop it (whatever she is holding)
Get the paper (news paper)
Get the stick
Get your ball
Get your dish
Go (for a walk)
Good dog
Lie down (same as drop)
Mouse (there is a mouse, catch it)
Off you go
On your blanket
On your chair
Over (jump over something)
Shake (shake hands)
Skitch (chase it)

These notes are based on observation I have made on our family dog, Clair, over her life time. She was a kelpy-border collie cross; this seems to be one of the most intelligent breeds. She died at the age of 14 years, in 2007.


The table on the left lists the words and phrases that mean something to Clair.

Concepts that Clair understands

I will discuss some of the concepts that one might not expect a dog to understand.

Dippy dog
Clair enjoys dipping for stones. She seems to enjoy retrieving stones from beneath water more than the less challenging simple retrieval.


Clair understands that if some food or drink in her dish is too hot for her to drink at the present, it will become cool enough if she leaves it for a few minutes. I find this rather surprising because it indicates an understanding of the effect of the passage of time.


Clair completely ignores her reflection in a mirror. This indicates that she understands that there is not another dog there; there is no threat, it is only an image, not the real thing. I have read that it is only higher primates that are capable of realising that what they see in a mirror is not another animal.


I have heard it said that one thing that sets modern man apart from other animals, even higher primates and Neandertal Man, is the possession of an imagination.

Clair certainly dreams. This can be seen (and heard) by her behavior: she barks (although doesn't open her mouth) and moves her legs as if trying to run. Surely this indicates a form of imagination: she is either chasing or running from something in her mind. (So far as I know all dogs do this.)

Clair also has the odd habit of 'chasing' other cars when she is travelling in the back of our car. She snaps at them, and will bark at them if encouraged, as they pass. She has the same reaction to shrubs that pass close by the car on narrow bush tracks. This, in itself, probably does not indicate imagination, but she also sometimes makes lunges at cars that are there only in her imagination.


On this site...

Animal rights;

In regard to Animal rights; is the supremacy of Man idea justified?