Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making Lemonade

I partner with English shepherds in my work.  I breed and raise them to be as intelligent as possible -- no prudent stops on cognition, designed to make the beasts easier to live with.  You want to live with an English shepherd, it's your job to make it easy by co-opting that brain, not suppressing it.

So I am not easily impressed.

This video left me gobsmacked.

It's a cute two-minute clip of a goofy dog playing with the hose, right?

This canine engineer is the prophetically-named Sagan.

You may know him as Garrett, son of Rosie.

He went home to live with Eric and Braveheart in Connecticut.  A third (genetic) or fifth (cultural) generation dog trainer's assistant.

And he knows how to position a hose so that the water makes the arc he wants.  In fact, without resorting to opposable thumbs, he does better at it, with fewer errors, than I typically do when I'm trying to water something in the garden and want to put the hose down for a spell.

Most "experts" will tell us that dogs are not cognitively capable of the kind of calculation that Sagan performs here.

And consider -- he is a teenage dog, very recently introduced to the joys of hose-play, and is in an excited and slightly frustrated frame of mind.  Not a recipe for successful rocket surgery.

No one screwed around with a clicker and treats to manipulate Sagan into picking up the end of the hose. Nobody manipulated successive approximations towards an arc of flowing water.  Eric just gave his puppy the latitude to find what he enjoys and experiment with it.

A dog who is selected to be intelligent, and then empowered to be intelligent will always exceed the expectations of those who have dismissed them as "lemon brains."

Sometimes he will even leave his proud grandma with her jaw hanging slack.


The video is starting to go viral, with over 5400 pageviews in the last 16 hours.

And has been picked up by MSN.  Where they employ someone who understands English shepherds astonishingly well.


  1. Let me make the first comment.
    Thank you Heather for sharing your dogs with me.
    I am forever grateful to you.

    Sagan is the best companion I could ask for and I am as devoted to him as he is to me.

    Again with my sincerest thanks!

  2. It's quite obvious that the hose placement was entirely deliberate, not at all accidental. Very impressive!

  3. He even pauses to admire his handiwork. Very cool! (Just don't leave the car keys lying around and the car with a full tank of gas.)

  4. In the opening chapter of his book 'The Math Instinct', author Keith Devlin describes a Corgi chasing a frisbee on the beach. The dog is observed calculating the trajectory of the frisbee, the angles of entry into the water and how to retrieve the toy with maximum speed by covering the least distance. Can't find the book just now to reference, but if I'm remembering correctly Devlin watches the dog long enough to see him doing calculus in th name of frisbee-fetching and pleasing himself. I thought of that book, and that discussion, watching Sagan manipulate his hose to just the right angle. Sagan has 'the math instinct', too!

  5. Smart, and good looking too! You are doing good work Heather. And thanks for getting back to your blog...

  6. Oh, gracious. The comments that are coming in on the MSN page.

    I thought, for a nanosecond, about linking to the ESC webpage to explain why "a bordercollie" was being called "an english sheep dog." (YIKES) Then common sense took hold. These commenters are exactly the people I don't want anywhere near these dogs.

  7. It made me smile and very envious to allow a hose to spew water so flagrantly in daylight hours.

  8. Wow. I would love to have one of your dogs some day.

  9. I've only just found your blog, but as someone who accidentally ended up with a genius dog, watching that just made me wish I could give Casey a hose and some time and see what happens. I don't understand how anyone who has watched or lived with a smart dog can ever believe they don't work through problems.


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