Not many of us have pet snails and, up until now, there seemed to be few good prospects to train them to do much of anything. That has all changed. Researchers have demonstrated that snails can be taught to take deep breaths of air when they are choking. Not only that but, if you feed them chocolate, they will remember their training for three whole days. Without chocolate, they cannot remember anything beyond one day. Trigonometry for snails cannot be too far behind.
Still, I wonder about animal intelligence. Before I was married and on a day when the rain went on and on, I tried to teach my German shepherd-Heidi-how to play the old three-shells-and-a-pea game. For shells, I used three paper cups. For the pea, I used I piece of dog food. No matter how slowly I moved the piece of dog food from under one cup to under another cup, she would always lose track of it.
I reduced the number of cups to two, and the number of moves to one. It fooled her every time. I watched her eyes to see if she was following my moves, and she was. But when I let her pick the cup she thought the piece of dog food was under, she was completely amazed that it was not there. It was this event and her inability to resist chasing skunks that inspired me to ask Bobbalee, my future wife, on our first date.
(Just as an aside, I did eventually ask her about her interest in skunks and whether she was any good at board games. She is a holy terror at board games and does not like skunks.)
On the other hand, I never knew a better liar than Heidi. When I was living on a farm in Colfax, she started killing chickens. I investigated every known cure for chicken-killing dogs, and tried them all to no avail. I could never catch her in the act of killing a chicken, but I once came within thirty seconds.
I said, “Did you kill that chicken?” and I pointed at the dead chicken.
She pretended like there was no chicken lying dead on the ground behind her. I turned her around and pointed directly at the chicken. She was surprised at seeing the chicken and sniffed it to determine what was wrong with it. She indicated that she, too, was mystified by the recent drop in the chicken population.
She did something similar with her mate, Kio. He loved his tennis ball more than life itself. He was also deathly afraid of the basement steps. Every time Heidi could do it, she would steal his ball, wait for him to see that she had his ball, and then drop it down the basement steps. Kio would rush to the edge of the steps to watch the ball descend into the depths of Hades with the most sorrowful look I have ever seen on a dog’s face.
When I confronted her about her behavior, she denied all knowledge.
Left alone one time with his tennis ball and a bag of chocolate candy, she ate the chocolate and then pulled off and ate every bit of yellow fuzz on the ball. I never saw a naked tennis ball before. It has weird, high ridges on it and is very clammy to the touch. Kio was, of course, horrified.
So, yes, animals can show remarkable intelligence but, if they are going to use it to kill chickens, pull the fuzz off people’s favorite toys, and then lie about it, they most certainly should not be fed chocolate.