Cunning – Would a Dog be Sufficiently Devious to ‘Act Dumb’?


Jennifer Vigas in  ‘Dogs Play Dumb for our own Sake’ quotes new research claiming that our domestication of wolves, and our own dominant nature, has resulted in dogs that are so submissive that they suppress their independence and intellect. Dogs wait for orders, while wolves cooperate with each other to solve problems.

However Marc Bekoff writes that surely, with all of the incredible differences among various dog breeds and with astounding and fascinating individual differences to boot in dogs and wolves (and other animals), to claim that researchers Frederick Range and Zsófia Virányi to say that dogs play dumb to please us is far too sweeping and premature. He poses this question amongst others questions, is it ‘obeying’ that dogs do when we tell them something?

Bekoff ends his article ‘The studies do, however, open the door for further and more detailed investigations and that’s what scientific research is all about. So, let’s do the work before concluding that dogs and wolves (and other species, for that matter) do or don’t do this or that. I bet there are many surprises in store. And, individual variations in behavior among members of the same species are incredibly interesting’.

Here are my own humble thoughts on the matter. Some of us may actually teach our dogs to switch off when we could be encouraging them to be clever and to think. Why, after we have taught Max to sit at kerb for instance, do we keep saying ‘Sit’ every time we reach a kerb? No wonder it could sometimes look like some dogs are acting dumb – we have paired the action with the command so many times that Max may well think he should not sit unless commanded (which is actually quite clever)! Conventional old-school ‘obedience’ training encourages the dog and his human to rely upon commands where modern training (including clicker, shaping and capturing) actually encourages the dog to think for himself, experiment and use his brain.

If I were each time reminded by someone to do something I had already learnt and always did, I would be irritated. I don’t know about dogs playing dumb, but they certainly are amazingly tolerant!

Here is the story of a dog I went to who was waiting for commands and was initially bewildered when encouraged to think for herself.

This is my main website with more stories of dogs I have helped


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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