Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Wily

Recently, I've been highlighting some of my favorite parts of Barley's identity. We've covered the instigator, the athlete, and the goober. Today, we're focusing on one of the most trying elements of Barley's Barleyness. (For the record, the English professor in me is cringing over the lack of parallelism this introduces into the series since wily isn't a noun like the others--but I've thought on this for WEEKS and couldn't find the right word.)

For Christmas, my brother and sister-in-law got me (and Bar) the Dognition assessment. If you haven't heard of Dognition, it's all about the science of understanding what makes your dog tick. There are 9 different profiles ranging from protodogs to socialites to stargazers. To complete the assessment, you complete a series of different games in 5 different categories: empathy, communication, cunning, memory, and reasoning and record the results of each game in your profile online and when you've finished all of the different categories, your results are analyzed and you get a detailed report explaining what the games reveal about your dog. You can get different types of subscriptions after completing the assessment that unlock more information, such as a new game each month. I'd been planning to do a few months of that in the winter when it was too cold for our normal walking routine, but then it didn't get that cold (thank you, Mother Nature!), so I just kept putting off the subscription and posting about Dognition. Maybe the subscription will happen when it gets too hot for our normal routine, but without further ado, here's some of what we discovered thanks to Dognition.

Playing a game where we had to track which "cup" she went to first."

I won't go into Barley's whole profile now, but as I completed the cunning category of the assessment and read the results, I found myself going, "Yes. Yup. Uh huh. Right. Exactly" and those results tie into today's post perfectly.

Way past trustworthy!

In agility class, our trainer has often commented on Barley's lack of contrition when she does things like nip at my hands. She says Barley sees everything as a game. I've lamented Barley's lack of contrition when it comes to eating cat food (even when that means climbing on the counter to do it). In the first paragraph of Barley's Dognition report, I read, "As soon as you aren't paying attention, whatever Barley has been lusting after mysteriously disappears. You might wonder whether Barley is incapable of learning a tiny world like 'No!'"

Throughout the cunning games, we did various tasks where we timed how long it took the Barley to take a treat when I was watching, when my eyes were covered, and when my back was turned. Her report states, "Barley is the perfect example of a dog using cognitive strategies effectively. She knew she should wait when you were watching and that it was safe to swoop in and take the treat when you had your back turned or your eyes covered." I guess this explains why Barley always goes to get the cat food the second I sit down on the toilet--even if she appears to be sound asleep when I head to the bathroom!

The report also revealed that Barley is wilier than a lemur: "The fact that Barley didn't wait as long to take the treat when your eyes were covered is impressive, since you looked almost exactly the same as when you were watching Barley--the only difference was that you had your hands over your eyes. Many animals can tell the difference between your front and back, but even some primates (like lemurs) have difficulty detecting the subtle meaning of covering your eyes. Barley's performance shows a sophisticated mind at work." This is why it's especially important for me to keep my eyes on Barley when I lead out in agility class. Some of our classmates lead out without maintaining eye contact with their dogs or lead out and then scan the course to make sure they have it--sometimes their dogs get a little stressed while they wait for their handlers to look back at them, but they usually stay where they are. When I break contact with Barley, she gets up and wanders over to something more interesting than the obstacle she's sitting in front of (and since that's usually a classmate, we want to avoid that even more than most people do).

So connected with me between turns that she doesn't even know her picture's being taken.
The report combines the results of each of the categories and concluded that based on some of Barley's other results, she knows how to read me perfectly, but "she is just selective of when and where she uses that information." 

Barley's wiliness is one of the things I love most about her. She is smart. So very smart. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it--even if it means lying in wait until just the right moment. But Barley's wiliness is also our biggest obstacle. This is the exact reason she's managed to poison herself on multiple occasions when I've turned my back for barely a second. It's the reason that our treat pouch occasionally gets emptied when I kneel down to tie my shoe on a walk and a nose ends up in the pouch before I know what's happening. It's something that makes some behaviors (not eating cat food--even when it's up high, staying out of the trash can) next to impossible to train. Barley is determined and very little will get in her way of getting it.

Fun Fact: As I typed this post, Barley went in the kitchen, put her paws on the stove, and used her paws and nose to pull the pan that was waiting to be washed from cooking steak to the front of the stove, and stole the spatula that had some good steak bits on it. All before I could set the computer down and fly into the kitchen after her. She makes me tired.

We may revisit our Dognition results later in this series, but this was the section that rang most true for us! Stay tuned later this week for an update on our latest home-owning adventure!


  1. Barley seems to fall into the category "too smart for her own good!". It's tough when you want to admire her intelligence but at the same time it makes life with her that much more difficult!
    Our beagle Cricket has a cat food obsession too and if she does manage to get to it, she eats as much as she can as fast as she can, knowing it's going to be taken away as soon as I see her. There are definitely no regrets afterwards either!
    Jan, Wag n Woof Pets

    1. Barley inhales the cat food, too! I always have to stay one step ahead of her--like shutting her in the bedroom before I go to shower--to thwart her plans.

  2. Dear Lord, it sounds so much like Delilah, although I have never tried closing or covering my eyes to see what she'll do. But as soon as you get up, she will snarf whatever it was that was in her mind and of course, she does scope out the stove and bring her 'prizes' into the living room. My favorite time was when it looked like she spit out a butter knife. Dogs like Barley and Delilah are a lot of work, but they sure make life interesting too!

    1. It sounds like Delilah and Barley definitely share some of the same genes. Sometimes it's so hard not to laugh at her antics--she can be equal parts silly and infuriating at moments.

  3. Interesting. I bet that kind of evaluation could help be a better trainer/handler for something like agility or even our hunt test training.

    1. Most of the information is stuff that we'd already figured out from years of training together, but it was fun to see how all of the different parts work together and it would definitely be great for someone who was just starting to work with a new dog!