Scary Smart Sheepdogs

I’m amazed by the number of words my Icelandic Sheepdogs know.

I’m also amazed by their memory, and their ability to solve a problem needing many complex tasks.

Just a few examples.

Taxidermy Dog I was sitting on the steps dumping yogurt for the pigs. It gets sort of crazy, with big bags of trash, cardboard, buckets, etc. in the entrance way, but it’s still too cold to do it outside, so we just try to clean up after ourselves. But anyway, Disa’s favorite way to pass the time is to play with a squeaky ball. She loves to get under a pile of cardboard and squeak away. And it still works like a pacifier for her, so after a few minutes, she’ll fall asleep, usually at the top of the stairs, where she can keep an eye on me.

Today, she was squeaking it in front of me, and it went through the stairs riser, down into the basement below. She was puzzled. How did that happen? She found the crack, tried to look down, but it was a small one and she could only peer with one eye. Then she sat up, looked at me and barked and I told her to go get it.

The door to the stairs are a few feet away, heading 90 degrees from where the ball fell. The door was closed, but she knows how to open doors. It took her a while, though. Then she raced down, found the ball in our crazy full basement in about 20 seconds, and reappeared with the ball.

I played keep away with her for a minute (which she loves) and when I got the ball I put it through the hole. She ran down the stairs and got it and then wouldn’t let me have it again. Ha. Smarty.

This afternoon, we were talking about needing gas for the chainsaw and Frank said he was going to go to Bonnie’s. The dogs’ ears perked up. I thought they knew the word “store”, but they obviously also know “Bonnie’s”, too.

I said I’d come along for the ride, and we’d let the dogs ride in back. It’s just a mile to the store, all in town and they love to do that. (Yes, that is now illegal here, but there is a specific exemption if we are doing a farm job for which a dog is necessary. It was farm business, and the dogs believe they are necessary.)

When we went downstairs, I joked with them that how did they know they were going? They didn’t buy it. I wasn’t going to crush their hopes of going “bye-bye” and they knew it. (When they know they won’t get to go, they both look at me with sad puppy eyes and ears down and droopy. So sad.)

Chantecler hen We of course found 20 things to do before we could leave. We had a lamb out, hungry ducks, and I spotted my wayward Chantecler hen where I could catch her. (Man. She does not like the rooster we kept, Pierre. She’s always wanting a handsome Icelandic Rooster, the hussy. But if I don’t get her egg, she doesn’t get to live here, so back she goes with the rest of the Chantees.)

When we finally headed to the truck to leave, they ran to the back of the truck, waiting for me to open the tailgate. Usually, they run to the door. How did they know? I had no clue they understood when I said “ride in back”. I actually can’t remember talking about it before — usually I just do it on my own, because I’m usually alone with them.

I think I must say something when I open up the window from inside the truck and let them go in back, but I sure don’t remember it. I thought I just opened it up. I’ll often leave them in the back of the truck while I run into the feed store or the grocery store. They stay really nicely, and if anyone comes up to them that they don’t like, they’ll get back into the front of the truck.

I knew they knew lots of words. They know sheep by the category and by name, and the same with the cows and pigs. If we have a critter out and want them to go round them up, we’ll say “go get the pigs” or “go get the sheep”, and they’ll go rolling out the door at full speed and go either left or right, depending. (Man, that’s handy. Man, I’m about to have Easter goose if that girl doesn’t stop trying to nest on the deck right next to the outlet and insisting on pulling the plug to the fence charger. Frank put a compressor in front of it to block her and she still managed, somehow.)

I’ve been spending a lot of time running the evaporator lately, which gives me lots of time to throw sticks. But they are too smart and too energetic and I give them harder and harder challenges. I never throw the stick some place easy. No, no. I make sure they see me throw it, and throw it into the most difficult place I can manage. A brush pile, on the other side of the fence, in deep snow, behind the stone wall. They always bring the same stick back. They’ll play tug of war with it for a while until it’s eventually destroyed and then I tell them to bring me another.

Play with me! They’ll bring a new one, and I’ll usually reject it. “No. That’s too small/big/heavy/rotten.” They’ll go get another one. It’s hard when the sticks are mostly buried in the snow and ice, but they’ll work at it. (Disa gives me this look when she “finds” a stick and wants me to play with her when I’m busy doing something else. “Wow! Look what I found out here, a STICK!!! Let’s play!)

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