Sat, Jan 20, 2018 09:32 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
Smile Awhile
My dog's smarter than your dog
by Sara Hopson

My Aunt Barbara has a 10 year-old chocolate brown toy poodle named Hershey. That in itself is not unusual. What is an oddity is that Aunt Barbara claims that Hershey is a mathematical genius. Now, I don’t dismiss Aunt Barbara’s allegations when it comes to her uncanny ability to teach animals tricks. Since I was a child, Aunt Barbara has astounded family and friends with her animal training finesse. She once had a black cocker spaniel mix named Cassius Clay that could say, “elevator”, “hello”, and “I love you,” clearer and more distinctly than most humans. In fact, Aunt Barbara’s daughter, Jan (a veterinarian in Huntington), took Cassius to high school to entertain the students and faculty. Aunt Barbara has also had several parakeets that had extensive vocabularies so it came as no surprise to me that Hershey had learned a new “trick.”

When Aunt Barbara told me about Hershey’s propensity for math, I thought that she had taught him to respond by barking if she held up one finger or possibly two fingers (that in itself would be remarkable). What I didn’t expect to find out is that Hershey can add and subtract without any prompting except by verbal command....and a treat.

Let me explain, Aunt Barbara gets Hershey’s attention by waving a Pupperonie treat at him and says, “Hershey, what is six minus two?” Immediately Hershey will bark four times. Then, Aunt Barbara will say, “Hershey, what is three plus three?” Once again Hershey barks six times. Not to be mislead, I asked Aunt Barbara if I could choose the numbers. She agreed and I told her to ask Hershey what four minus three was. He yipped once. I was astonished.

First, you must know that when I visited Aunt Barbara to watch this amazing canine feat, our dog, Jen-eye, accompanied me. While Jen-eye is no math whiz, she does have a talent for being able to sleep anywhere at any time. In other words, she possesses few human traits.

“That’s unbelievable,” I said to Aunt Barbara. “Did you know Jen-eye can recite the Gettysburg Address?”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Aunt Barbara laughed. “I didn’t mean to make you jealous.”

“I am not jealous!” I exclaimed as I caught Jen-eye lying on her back oblivious to her surroundings and the events that were occurring. “But I’m afraid you’re going to give Jen-eye a complex.”

“But how does Hershey do it?” Aunt Barbara asked, obviously amazed at her own dog’s talent.

“Well, why don’t you just ask the little show-off,” I replied, sourly.

“Sara!” Aunt Barbara retorted.

“Okay,” I said as I picked a tick off Jen-eye’s stomach, “ask him what the square root of 495 is.”

“Sara, you’re awful,” Aunt Barbara lamented.

“If he’s so smart, why can’t he multiply?” I whined.

“I thought you’d be thrilled that he was so smart,” Aunt Barbara stammered. “I wasn’t comparing him to Jen-eye. I’m sure Jen-eye is smart.”

“You’re exactly right,” I agreed. All the while I was hoping that Aunt Barbara wouldn’t discover that Jen-eye didn’t even respond to her own name when called.

“Come here, Jen-eye,” Aunt Barbara said trying to cajole Jen-eye with a treat. “Let me pet you.”

“She only responds to sign language,” I lied.

On the walk back home, as Jen-eye smelled tree trunks and chased cats, I pondered Hershey’s numerical aptitude. Just last week the TV show ‘Animal Planet’ featured another dog that made national headlines by performing similar feats to Hershey’s except Hershey’s mathematical techniques were far more advanced. Compared to that dog Hershey could have his own TV show. I hope that happens because, with her limited talent, maybe Jen-eye could be a guest walk-on.

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