David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, June 12, 1999

Dogs are
eternal optimists

Just before his third birthday, my grandson Corwin passed an important milestone: He officially became smarter than my Shar-pei Bingo.

I've been tracking their relative intelligence since Corwin was a baby. I saw them taking an afternoon nap after lunch one day, sprawled out on the floor side by side, their fat tummies protruding without shame.

"You know," I said, "they both look dumber than garden slugs."

In Bingo's case, it was a permanent condition. For Corwin, I hoped it was not -- a hope fulfilled the other day when I saw the two of them playing together. What told me beyond a doubt that Corwin was smarter?

They were playing "pretend" and Corwin was pretending to give Bingo food from a plate. The stupid dog was chasing the boy around the room like a fool as he tried to gobble up the morsels that kept turning out to be imaginary.

Dogs just don't grasp the concept of "pretend" that comes so naturally to little boys. Dogs are very literal-minded creatures -- kind of like some women, except that even the most literal-minded woman eventually catches on that you're just joshing her.

Not Bingo. No matter how many times Corwin offered up handfuls of air, Bingo kept going back expecting a real bite of food. Corwin proved his intellectual superiority by laughing his head off at Bingo's stupidity.

Bingo was so easily outwitted despite the fact that, to compensate for giving him a brain the size of a garbanzo bean, his Maker gave him a nose the size of a shop vacuum to sniff out whether Corwin really had food in his hand. Bingo wasn't smart enough to use the schnoz.

I guess that's what makes dogs so appealing: They're forever optimistic despite all evidence to the contrary. And dogs are different from little boys in that they seem to get dumber instead of smarter as they grow older.

For instance, Bingo hates baths. I used to have to chase him all over the yard to get a leash on him so I could hose him down.

On the other hand, he loves rides in the car. When I pulled out the leash to take him to the car, he sat obediently to let me attach it. He had an uncanny sense of when the leash was for a bath and when the leash was for the car.

Now, he always assumes the leash is for the car despite the fact that I hardly ever take him for rides anymore because he's gotten too big and slobbers too much.

So he sits there full of hope, tail wagging, as I attach the leash. Then the tail droops along with his head as I tie him to the gate for his bath.

But again, his Maker compensated by making him so stupid that the minute the hose is turned off he forgets all about his misery and is prancing around like the happiest dog in the sausage aisle at the market.

Corwin's game of "pretend" is starting to wear thin on Bingo. "Uh, Corwin," I say, "the dog is getting a little surly. You'd better get him a biscuit."

Corwin sticks his hand in the biscuit box and pretends to pull one out. Bingo leaps for the treat in eager anticipation. Disappointed at getting nothing but air, he scratches the door to go outside until Corwin's mother takes him home.

I give him a biscuit for letting my grandson live.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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