What I remember first about these two women: they were in a hurry. My husband and I were out walking our dog, Fin, at our favourite off-leash beach and they tromped right on past us in the muted, early spring light, looking ahead with a sense of purpose.
Then one of the women interrupted her walk to stop, turn around, and watch Fin scrabble up and over stacks of driftwood heaped across a long arm of sand.
“Wha’ kind of dog’s that?” she blurted. “Looks like a pug.”
“Yeah, he’s definitely a pug,” I said, swelling with pride.
“Hmph,” the woman replied, then trotted up the beach to catch up with her friend. As she got within earshot of her friend, I could hear their loud conversation bounce across waves: “Yeah, I heard pugs are, like, not that smart,” she said. In reply, her companion covered her mouth, and the two of them collapsed into giggles.
“Prolly the dumbest dogs, ever,” her friend added.
I felt my husband squeeze my hand as I watched the women scurry up the beach, my eyes boring holes into their backs.
I noticed neither of the women had a dog accompanying her. For two people who looked like they’d graduated from high school maybe twenty years ago, I wondered what prompted them to play nasty with a dog; for that matter, what would qualify two non-pooch people to comment on a dog’s intelligence at all?
It’s an insult to my own intelligence that I’ve spent years fretting over this long-ago, thirty-second encounter with these two women. But there you go. Pug moms, I’ve heard, leak brain cells the moment anyone dares hint that their adopted children are less than fur-covered rock stars. If you want to knock a pug mom flat, try toppling her with a feather dipped in a few poisonous words.
But if I’m honest with myself, these women certainly aren’t the first to feel entitled to rank dog breeds according to brain power. If you want to know how smart your dog is—according to some mysterious, highly scientific ranking system—it’s as easy as typing in the breed on the Google search bar and adding the word “intelligence.”
Yeah, I’ve read the stats myself. I know pugs are somewhere near the bottom. Essentially a bunch of sleepy little lap dogs who must have bombed their LSATs. I have a pretty good idea how so-called dog intelligence is determined, as well. The dogs quick to learn commands and quick to follow them, the dogs who remember these commands so well they merit extra treats. These are the dogs annually dubbed geniuses of the canine kingdom.
By contrast, the lowly pug, who walks around with an expression that says, “Can you crack me a beer, Dad, so we can watch the game together?” would sooner chill with his peeps than work on his “sit, stand, and fetch” homework. By default, he must be really dumb, right? Just like my own slacker high school teacher husband, who enjoys collapsing in front of the TV with Fin after a long, hard day at work, by extension, must be a half-wit. And yet, somehow, that same husband pulled off perpetual straight A’s and three university degrees. Go figure.
I think you’re catching my drift, right? Who gets to decide what intelligence really means? Whether we’re talking about dogs or humans, are the smart ones only those capable of reaching the bars set by someone else?
Fin may not know how to dig for bones—he’d rather eat them first—but he knows the difference at night between me getting up to turn out the hall light and me sleepwalking. Whenever it’s the latter, he wakes my husband up right away, launching him up and out of bed to find me in the dark, to stop me from falling, semiconscious, down the stairs.
Whenever any one of our kids is having a bad day, Fin arrives in a flash to offer comfort, to kneel at the pair of legs attached to the body of a broken soul. How does he know so-and-so is depressed on that particular day? My husband or I might have missed it, but when it comes to managing his family’s complex needs, Fin is always on the ball.
His extrasensory skills, in fact, are nothing short of astounding.
Fin knows all the subtle forms of communication we give our minds over to—the right head tilt and eye-bulge to convince us we need to let him lick our dinner plates or take him for a walk. When he doesn’t want to do something, he flat out refuses, and he pretty much always gets his way. I always thought the hallmark of intelligence was independent thinking—or did I miss the memo? Whatever it is, I don’t need to remind everyone how much trouble our ancestors have gotten into in the past by simply following orders. The outcomes usually mark the most tragic chapters in human history. Only the types who think and speak for themselves—the Ghandis, the Churchills, the Gormans—inspire a quest for greatness in everyone else.
I’m not saying my pug is ready to lead the battle against climate change just yet—unless the organic treats for victors are truly spectacular—but I do have a few words I’d like to say back to those two women who pushed past us on the beach all those years ago.
They are as follows: Be kind. Think before you speak. And, most of all, never underestimate the power of a four-legged creature who conquered the mind, heart, and refrigerator of its two-legged caretaker—without saying a single word.
Your pug has a lot going for him. I’m glad you defended Fin here!
Thanks so much, dear Sean. The best part of Fin is that it all rolls right off him. I strive for that kind of intelligence daily. 🙂
Ah, such a great little story Dana. Loved the ending!
“When it comes to managing his family’s complex needs, Fin is always on the ball.” —
There’s some really delightful lines in here…
Thank you, lovely Christina. 🙂
Dana, love your writings! And sleep walking?
I know, right? That’s a skill passed straight down from Mom.
Fin the pug, son of Dana the lioness. You go, girl.
From one lioness to another: I bow my head in appreciation for your encouragement, Liz. 🙂
You’re right — being a master of love (both giving and receiving) trumps the mastery of obeying commands and executing the perfect trick any day.
So well said, Jean. Thanks so much for your comment and for reading my blog.
Those two dames are lucky to be alive!🐾
Ha, ha. No wonder they were moving so fast…
All the most honest people I know have been pugs. They are intuitive and warm. You’ve nailed it here Dana. I used to hate it when people would call Jane dumb. She wasn’t. She just had a very narrow aim in terms of her interests: food and lap. We should all be so focused.
I so agree, Cami. I’m working on whittling it down to food and books myself. 🙂
What the **** gets into people that afflicts them with the need to say something hurtful and stupidly thoughtless? Maybe a lack of intelligence… I’ve met Fabulous Fin and know he’s an adorable charmer. After reading about his nighttime protective sense, it seems he also possesses heroic loyalty and love. Divine intelligence! And your husband’s pretty cool too.
Thanks so much, Irene. I think Fin needs his own super-pug cape.
I can see it now. Fin in a super-pug cape. So perfect!
When I first started reading this, I was getting so angry. Both as a dog Mom (who had to endure hurtful comments of passerby’s all the time about the ugliness of a gigantic tumour on the side of my old dog), and as a human being. It always seems to me that people have to make hurtful remarks to make them feel better about themselves and their lives. So I take that as a reflection of this possibility, and try to feel sorry for them instead. Especially if they don’t have a pet to make their lives better. No human being can match the intelligence of ANY dog – who will never hurt anybody’s feelings nor destroy the world around them. We should be so lucky as to learn the lessons that they offer so freely and innocently, and with the purest love. And as I know Fin personally – he’s extremely intelligent, as I have seen how he has your entire household wrapped around his little toes, using only his adorable eyes to get exactly what he wants, whenever he wants. Which human can achieve that? Be kind, choose your words carefully – and I wish only that everybody could experience the true love and intelligence of any dog, to make their lives better and change their judgments. Beautifully written Dana, as always.
Micki thank you for your poignant and thoughtful response. You are one of those rare humans with doglike qualities–a.k.a. supreme intelligence and extrasensory abilities–and we’re all the better for it.
An Oz journo Richard glover writes how is kelpie will do all manner of tricks but only when treats follow. As you suggest the dumbly obedient are not so smart. You can only pity folk who dont appreciate the joys of a pug and what animals bring to our lives! Beautifully expressed dear Dana
Thank you, Cathy. If it’s a dog’s life then I know you and I would probably be among the first to sign up. 🙂
Dana – that is absolutely beautifully written and all so very true. Love it and I can just picture your little pug wanting to sit down with a beer😃🍺. Perfect description – the whole article is delightful and I look forward to reading more!
Dayle, I’m so glad this piece struck a chord with you. Thank you for your lovely comments and for reading my blog. I’ve always thought there had to be something to the idea that “dog” is “god” spelled backwards. Even god has to sit down and have a beer on occasion, I think. We certainly give her/him good reason to. 🙂
I really enjoyed the post. I have a ChinPoo. Chins aren’t known for their intelligence, but my dog is fiercely loyal and is quick to reach out to anyone having a bad day. I hope to meet Fin one day.
Thanks, Erryn. 🙂 All forms of doggie intelligence seem divine. Congrats again on your new condo, your new book, and your new life. I hope to see you again regularly on the sprint … and in the meantime, thanks for sticking by
this afternoon through my slog.
Pugs are considered “dumb”? Gosh, no one ever told me. Here I am, thinking from the very first day I ever met my Henry as a week-old pug pup, that he was one of the most intelligent and entertaining dogs I ever had the fortune of mothering. Has everyone forgotten that in ancient times, pugs were bred to be companions for Chinese royalty? That Buddhist monks in Tibet kept pugs as pets in their monasteries? That alone speaks volumes about the intelligence and sensitivity of pugs. Henry keeps us chuckling every day over his antics and keen awareness.
Jeanne–spoken like a true pug mom! I so appreciate your thoughtful defence of this exceptional breed. It’s so good to get the historical context. I wholeheartedly agree with your aligning of “intelligence” and “sensitivity” in the same sentence–it’s so easy to see how poorly intelligence is applied when it doesn’t take into account the needs of others. Humans haven’t quite gotten this yet. Thank goodness Henry and Fin are there to remind us of our own deficiencies–and cuddle us, regardless.