Friday, May 21, 2010


On the streets of Houston, people walk up to Raleigh. They simply want to touch him. Most of them ask my permission, as that is the polite standard in greeting a dog you’ve never met. Permission granted, the sweet person burrows their fingers blissfully into the soft hair on Raleigh’s head. They feel compelled to talk politely to me, after all, I am this dog’s human.

If they know anything about poodles the first thing they talk about is smarts. The comments go like this:

“We had a poodle when I was growing up. She was so smart.”

“I know someone who has a poodle. He is really smart.”

“Is it true poodles are smart?”

Yes poodles are smart, especially standard poodles. They are master problems solvers. But don’t confuse “smart” with “biddable”. Biddable dogs do whatever you want because they believe their job in life is to make you happy. This is a wonderful trait in a dog. If you have a dog like this you have been blessed by the Goddess of Canine Love. Don’t ever take this gift for granted. But don't confuse the fine doggy art of people-pleasing with intelligence.

Many books proclaim that poodles are, hands down, the smartest dogs ever. Others rate them second to border collies. To hear some people tell it, if God had created a standard poodle to keep Adam and Eve company, they never would have never been thrown out of the Garden. I find some plausibility in that theory, not because the poodle would have protected Eve from the snake but because the furry beast would have kept her so busy grooming and training she wouldn’t have had the time or energy to get into trouble.

But don’t worry I won’t digress into a tirade about grooming and training here. Both are such a huge part of life with a standard poodle that entire sections of this blog will be devoted to them.

Back to smart. Dogs are like teenagers. The smarter they are the more trouble they tend to get into. Why? Because smart dogs get bored. One of the main reasons I am a poodle blogger is because I had to make Raleigh into my full time job just to keep him out of trouble.

Smart divides Raleigh into two different dogs. The bored, depressed Raleigh and the lively, engaged Raleigh.

When he is bored there is no question about it. He mopes around the house. His head hung down, he moves slowly like it is an effort to pick his furry paws up and place one in front of the other. He drops himself to the ground at my feet with a sigh and a thud like a puppet whose strings can no longer support the huge weight of his boredom. He stares into the distance, eyes dull, eyebrows furrowed. I can practically hear the wind blowing through the void of his unengaged poodle brain.

But give him some one or some thing to interact with and he comes to life. He is electric energy animating a weightless poodle body. His eyes sharpen like the zoom lens on an expensive camera. His mouth splits into a big doggy grin. The fine muscles around his nostrils ripple like the keys on a piano.

In the house his favorite pastimes are “go”, “find”, and “get”. He is thrilled to translate the bazaar, human sounds I make into an action that earns him something he wants, usually a pea sized morsel of meat. He loves to “go” to the target or “get” the specified toy. He will work (or play) as long as I am willing. He never tires.

A real favorite of his is “find” the kitty. He moves from room to room whining while he searches. He knows full well where the kitty is but the “find” part of his job is just too sweet. He has to drag it out, milk it for all the pleasure he can get. When he does finally find the poor kitty, usually sound asleep in her bed, he dances and barks like he just scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. That sends the kitty scrambling under the nearest piece of furniture.

If we go too long without “go”, “find”, or “get” he falls back on “chew.” If I have failed to provide him something to “chew” he is left to find something on his own. Knowing this is forbidden, he is careful not to step too far over the line. Left to his own devises he delicately lifts something out of my office trash can, a torn envelope or a tissue. He tears it into a hundred soggy pieces then lies next to the mess, a bored and pathetic heap of poodle suffering in tortured silence until the next time his services are needed.

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