I believe that encounters with wildlife can give some indication of a dog's intelligence. Still, the observing human must understand that a person's idea of what is an intelligent action in a particular situation may differ widely from a dog's idea.
A dog's first encounter with a porcupine will probably result in porcupine quills in the dog's nose, because canines are never content to observe from a safe distance but must smell any new experience up close.
Although this statement may identify me as a "human chauvinist," I say an intelligent dog will receive a few quills and will never again get close enough to a porcupine to be on the receiving end of sharp quills. I define caution as part of intelligence.
Contrary to myth, porcupines cannot throw quills. They can slap with their tails, though, and some dogs, unaware that this slow-moving animal has a fast-moving tail - and ashamed that they were outmaneuvered - mightclaim they were hit by thrown quills.
I thought that King Edward, a Norwegian elkhound cross who lived with me most of his life, was a very intelligent dog. And the evidence he brought one afternoon reinforced my estimation of his intelligence.
I had guests for lunch at a cabin near the reservoir in the foothills of the Sierras when Edward walked down from the ridge above the cabin with seven porcupine quills in the soft part of his nose. They were lightly embedded, which indicated that he had investigated cautiously and backed away quickly. He had probably brushed his paw across his nose and discovered that thiswas not the way to solve the problem.
He sought me out, because I made a habit of helping him with problems. Unfortunately, our ideas of what constituted help with the quills soon diverged.
Porcupine quills do not come out easily. After I yanked the first one out with a pair of pliers, Edward and I were no longer as closefriends as we had been. I told him, "I really do have your best interests at heart. The quills must come out."
Edward's thinking on the matter was simple and understandable: That hurt, and you will not approach my nose again.
Our four guests, strong young adults, all liked Edward and they readily agreed to help. "I think if you four hold him, and I operate the pliers, we can keep him from moving and get the job done," I said.
Four pairs of hands should have been enough hands to hold him still - but weren't. Despite every hand holding firmly, Edward jerked his head back enough that I couldn't get hold of one quill.
So I had another bright idea: "Let's blindfold him. If he doesn't see the pliers coming, he can't avoid them."
That didn't work either. He either smelled the pliers or sensed their difference in temperature, and he jerked back again. As I tried to figure out if there was any next step, Edward growled seriously, and eight hands put him down quickly. Then we removed the blindfold.
We all wanted to continue our friendship with the black dog, and he had made it quite clear that now was the time to declare ourselves friends or foes, on his terms.
Finally, several of us took Edward down the mountain that sunny afternoon for a brief visit with a veterinarian who didn't have an obligation to remain friends with Edward. The vet utilized years of experience at holding dogs still and pulled out all of the embedded quills.
Then we drove back up the highway to the cabin, where we continued our social gathering, dog included.
King Edward never again investigated a porcupine. I believe he thought I showed a high level of intelligence for a human, even though I never adequately developed my sense of smell or my night vision - and even though I did breach our unspoken rules for getting along. I had, after all, hurt his already injured nose and formed a pact with fellow humans to try to hurt him further.
Warning us sternly, however, proved to be effective discipline, so he knew I had the capacity and willingness to learn from my mistakes.
After that day, he rarely needed to remind me that I must observe a few important rules for living together in peace.