Animals can never be too smart

By Glenda Price: New Mexico columnist

One of the grandest sights in the world, in my opinion, is watching a cow dog at work. A bird dog is just as neat. Riding a champion cutting horse or barrel racing horse is an extra special thrill because you and the animal are doing something exciting together.

Guide dogs that work for blind people are among the animals I most admire. Dogs are territorial, and normally if they see other dogs in a crowd there’s plenty of barking, growling, etc. Guide dogs, though, have learned to ignore their own instincts in such situations — like at a meeting where other blind people and their dogs are present — and tend to business quietly (most of the time).

We used to have a black English Shepherd dog named Oso (bear in Spanish) that made gathering and moving a bunch of cattle easy. If an ornery old cow quit the herd we just needed to say, “Go get her, Oso,” and it was a done deal. He would get however rough he needed to with those old biddies. However, he was a softy when it came to baby calves. He’d run up to the baby and just bump it with his nose and look back at us as if to say, “Sorry, can’t help you. He’s too little to understand.”

Our kids had a flock of show sheep that we put in the corral at night to protect them from “things that roam in the dark.” Our Australian Shepherd, Scottie, had a special job, herding the sheep into the corral. That was the highlight of his day. Anytime anybody went out among the sheep he’d follow along, wagging his tail, his sparkling eyes saying, “Now? Is it time yet?”

Other animals besides horses and dogs are smart, of course. I had a friend who had a big flop-eared rabbit that was house-broken. I about pulled a runaway the first time I was at her house and that big old black thing hopped past me and stopped at the back door, ears flopping, ready to be let out.

Sometimes, though, animals learn things we’d rather they didn’t — like horses that figure out how to open barn door latches, and then get themselves into big trouble.

Once when I happened to have time on my hands I taught my father-in-law’s gray mare, Maggie, to tell her age by pawing the ground and to kneel for the rider to get on. I wasn’t ready for his reaction when I proudly had her demonstrate her new knowledge. He said, “You’ve ruined my cow horse. She’ll never be worth a dang or look at cows again.”

I think it’s quite all right for some animal education to be strictly for fun. We had a dog once that answered the question, “Would you rather be a Texan or a dead dog?” by flopping on the ground and pointing all four feet straight up. We made sure all our Texas friends and relatives got a chance to see that trick.

Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: