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Hmmm... this is a question and a topic of debate. Maybe it is because we as humans think of the word "reason" and/or "think" too literally? Maybe we as humans put too much or not enough "human" traits into our dogs? Maybe you are just thinking that I, personally, am just off my rocker? Either way, I personally think that there is no doubt in my mind that dogs can reason and/or think. I know dogs can reason and figure things out.

Let's start with the dog trainer and what makes a dog trainer. I can tell you here and now that great dog trainers are few and far between. Good dog trainers are out there, then there are average dog trainers, and then there is the rest of the world.

Great dog trainers have a "Zen" like quality that they can never explain to the average man or woman. They are what you hear called "dog men". These dog men will tell you that dogs think... and what a dog is thinking. They will be able to tell you because the dog is "with them" and "trained". These are terms taken for granted and not truly understood until you understand the dog men. So the debate of if dogs reason is as deep as understanding the dog men.

Animal researchers and physiologists are not dog men. They can not be because they are not allowed to believe in anything other than what they can prove by theory. Theory is derived from experiments; experiments must have a control. Control cannot be obtained by the human mind because the brain, be it dog or human, is the control. A computer or any fancy equipment cannot read the brain; but a dog man can. The dog men can and do have the ability to read the dog's mind by the virtue of who they are. You have it or you donít. You are or you are not. It cannot be learned, it can only be given to you at birth.

Learned people can learn to run, handle and train dogs even though they may not be a true "dog man". Books, magazines, etc... teach us as humans how to teach our dogs by doing drills. They are textbooks, there for our pleasure and to teach people how to do the training. These are the venues that make people into average and even good dog trainers in their own right. They will not make you into a dog man. Many books and articles are written by dog men - but not all are. Some are just written by men that are good writers and good trainers.

A dog man can take a dog - and with one look, they connect. They can teach the dog things by just a look and a touch of the hand. They can direct a dog to a downed bird with out so much as a whistle.

"These dog men will tell you that dogs think... and what a dog is thinking."

So can dogs reason? Ask a dog man. He will tell you: "yes". Ask a dog behaviorist or psychologist and they will say "no, prove it". The dog man will prove this by saying: "I had this dog that if in heavy cover would mark a fallen bird, tilt her head to find the wind, then run down wind with her head in the air as to scent that bird then hop, then b-line the fall because she reasoned a way to never miss a downed bird." Another dog man may say: "I had this dog that would wind a grouse in the woods, then make a big circle and if you where doing your job right as a handler you would catch the move the dog would put on the grouse and stop to position yourself. That bigger circle would cut the grouse off, then the birds would fly towards you in most cases."

The psychologist and behaviorist would probably say that is not proof enough.

The dog man would be able to take a dog that has had virtually no training and within minutes have a dog that is wanting and willing to learn. The dog would be looking at the dog man as if he where the dog's newest best friend. The dog would have a wiggly tail and a look of dedication.

The dog man merely gave the dog a pet and gave him a look.

To which the psychologist and behaviorist would probably still say: "that is not proof enough."

To which the dog man would just say: "I know these things because I knew what the dog was thinking."

-Tony Roettger


Tony Roettger




Tony Roettger of Minnesota owns and operates the Roettger Ridge Kennels. He breeds, imports and trains both English Cocker Spaniels and English Springer Spaniels.

Tony and co-author, Chip Schleider, have written Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field, due to be released in November. Autographed copies can be puchased from the Spaniel Journal Bookstore.


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