By Emily Parke Chase –
Having dogs was a big part of my childhood. Tara, our sheepdog, for example, followed our family to church one Sunday, jumped in the sanctuary window and then trotted down the aisle searching for my father who was also the pastor of the church. Tara curled up at his feet in the pulpit. After Tara came Mitzi, a curly‑haired mixed breed, who once consumed a guest’s socks while the man slept in our garden hammock. And Katie was a small Labrador mix that lapped up a heavy‑dose sleeping pill that fell from the table and suffered disastrous results. My mother, recovering from surgery, dropped the sedative by accident and watched with horror as the pill disappeared in the dog’s mouth. Katie slept for three days. Each of these dogs displayed varying levels of intelligence and contributed stories to our family lore.
When I reached my early teens, I became the designated dog trainer. I taught each puppy to come, sit, and stay. Most learned to respond to hand signals. I impressed my high school buddies by giving commands in Spanish or French as the dog obeyed my non‑verbal signals.
And then came Brigit.
Our family never sought out AKC champions but Brigit arrived, full grown, with official papers listing her sire and impressive lineage. A pure‑bred Labrador with a classic broad head, large paws and plumed tail, she had everything a breeder might want—except brains.
I began by teaching Brigit to sit. I firmly pushed her rump to the ground. I reinforced the position with a command, “Sit!”
Brigit was happy to remain in that posture. She went from sitting to sleeping in less time than it took to clip on a leash.
Day after day I worked with her. At last I was ready for her to “perform.” I asked my mother to try one of the new commands.
She approached the dog and spoke firmly, “Brigit! Sit!”
Brigit looked at my mother with a total lack of comprehension.
Mom called me from the kitchen. “I thought she had learned to sit.”
“I taught her that command all week,” I responded. Drying my hands on a towel, I walked into the room. Brigit took one look at me and promptly sat.
But when my brother tried the same command, he got the same blank stare. Somewhere inside her foggy brain, this dog had connected the seated posture with me instead of the command. Other commands presented similar challenges. Each time I said, “Stay!” she promptly fell asleep. She was grateful for any moment’s respite from work.
When I began to leash‑train her, Brigit sat expectantly at my side.
“Heel!” I commanded as I tugged the leash and set out.
Her huge head wrapped around my leg and looked up at me with adoring eyes. My left leg was attached to an oversized furry bowling ball. I couldn’t budge. Walking forward was impossible. Brigit leaned against my side as if she were bonded to me for life.
My dog’s IQ never qualified her for membership in Mensa, but she wrapped herself around our hearts as tightly as she leaned on my leg. When we children returned from college, Brigit welcomed us at the door. As our older dog became blind, Brigit guided Katie around obstacles. And years later, when my mother died, Brigit eased my father’s grief, encouraging him to get out of the house and go for walks. You see, deep in her mixed‑up doggy brain, Brigit did understand Jesus’ most important command, “Love one another,” and she obeyed it better than most humans, including me.
“If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15, Good News Bible).
(Raise your IQ! Visit the author at emilychase.com to learn more about her books.)