GSD Intellect!

 Drew Even Looks Intelligent!!

Drew constantly surprises us with her intellect. Most of these accomplishments are things we never taught her.

One of the first examples we noticed was that at seven weeks, while she was still with her littermates, she knew her name and came when called.

When Drew had been at our house for only a couple of days, at nine weeks, she astonished us by doing something we thought only dogs in cartoons did: She picked up her food dish, walked over to Eric, and plunked it down at his feet, sat down, and waited for him to fill it--with that special German Shepherd Dog look. If he didn't react right away, she picked it up and followed him and did it again. This is when we knew that we had a very smart dog in our house.

Not too long afterward, we began to notice that although we put her leash on and left the house the same way, whether we were going on a walk or going to go someplace in the car, she always knew which it was to be immediately. Eventually we noticed that she was watching closely when we double-locked the front door--which we only did when we were going to leave in the car!

Another example: She figured out how to open the back porch door. One day she just appeared in the yard, to join us. After she did this three more times, we realized that she'd been watching us open the door and had figured out how to duplicate what we did! We keep all the doors locked now!

We must be careful about what we say, and even what we spell. She seems to undertand almost everything we talk about!


Yes, it goes against all we're taught about human superiority since we were kids, but it really is true, and if you keep your mind open and watch, you will realize it.  We wrote most of this page when Drew was with us.  This section was added in April of 2022, when Sable was about age 8, when a good friend of ours sent us the link to the YouTube video at right.   Eric responded to her:

Yes!  They don't have to do that elaborate head-cocking -- they learn the language, and at a very early age!

Drew understood everything we said by four or five months...while she was a tiny tyke we once discussed whether I should take her for a walk, and since we hadn't decided yet and we figured she knew "walk", I asked if we should  "perambulate".  She instantly looked at her leash.  That raised our consciousness, and it stayed raised the rest of her life.  She had understood everything we said; and although we had never used that verb before, she figured it out immediately from the context.  She was very conversational her whole life, but we'd thought she was simply trying to mimic the sound of our speech -- and we didn't realize, till way late in her life when we began to make out a few of our words in what she was saying, despite not having the vocal equipment to make our speech sounds, that she had always been trying to share her thoughts with us the whole time.  It was humbling to realize she had a complete mastery of our language, even though we didn't understand a word of hers.

Sable, too, clearly understands our conversation, and acts without hesitation on things we say. At one time, on this website, we had a BBC video of a documentary made in the 1980's ("the soda water dogs") about German Shepherds in an British pub who not only understood English, but had spent time with a Japanese and knew Japanese as well.  Bilingual!  The BBC eventually prevented that video from being relayed by third parties and it disappeared from our site, but if we ever find a copy again it will go back on our website -- it was remarkable.

We think all dogs learn human language much more than we mere humans think they do; but there is no question that German Shepherds understand whatever language is spoken in their home fully and completely.  It's part of what makes them perfect and fully equal companions.

Drew loves puzzles and thinking games!

One of Drew's favorite indoor games is what we call her "jar trick". We place a small dog-bone inside a clear plastic applesauce jar, the mouth of which is too small to get her face into. It took her three weeks of puzzling over this, and then she figured it out. She knocks the jar on its side, picks it up at the bottom edge, and turns it upside down, vending the bone. She now does it every time she has the opportunity.

Her favorite outdoor game is what we call "Whippy Ball". We secure a top grade of tennis ball ("dog tennis balls" disintegrate almost immediately in this game) onto the end of a horse "lunge whip". The human one of us stands in the yard and whips the ball around, trying to keep it away from her while taunting her with it. She in turn watches carefully, almost as if it were a game of chess, and then makes her moves based on where she thinks the ball will be, rather than where it looks like it is going. Of course, she always grabs it eventually; the trick for us is in how long we can keep it away from her. The longer it is, the more she enjoys it. Some have said that the vigorous exercise she gets from this resembles herding instincts in action, but it seems to us that no GSD has an instinct to herd sheep by jumping in the air and grabbing them as they go by. She does switchbacks, moves and countermoves, and really keeps us on our toes, while herself getting great exercise, both mentally and physically. As we said, it's a bit like doggy chess, and she adores it.

To see Drew playing Whippy Ball, and to learn how we play it and how to make the Whippy Ball device itself, click here!

Not long ago, we gave Drew two ice cream cartons to lick; one was pretty much cleaned out, and we left a little ice cream in the other. She took a look, picked up the one with something left in it, dropped it in the empty one, and having nested the cartons lay down to lick the result. A dog nesting cartons? And putting the one with contents on top..?  We're constantly startled by the uncanny intelligence she routinely shows us, although by this time we really shouldn't be.

Since famed movie director George Lucas incorporated elements of his childhood and life experiences into his "Star Wars" movies, we have come to think the Wookie was patterned after German Shepherds, and possibly the long-haired ones: Highly intelligent; unable to communicate intelligibly to us, but understanding everything said; absolutely reliable and loyal in any crisis; furry as all get out... Yes, it all fits.

Drew is rather like Lucas' Wookie, although she is a lot prettier.

Drew Understands Everything We Say!

The cliches are in all those old Rin Tin Tin and Lassie movies. We never believed them, and many who have not lived with a GSD still don't: The movie dogs always understand everything said to them.  Ridiculous, right?

It took us quite a while to realize that, with German Shepherds at least, this is really exactly true. They learn English (or whatever language is spoken at home). Their responses look like a funny coincidence--till it happens every time. Eventually, even to human beings, it becomes crystal clear. These dogs really do understand and act upon what we say.  Here's just one of the daily examples in our house, cited by Eric because it happened just this morning (July 26, 2002)...

Garbage collecting day. Last night I put out the yard debris barrel, the garbage can, and the two recycling bins. Three trucks stop at the house this Wednesday morning. Drew, who while indoors stays in the kitchen where her kennel is, habitually announces up the stairwell to my home office when the UPS and FedEx trucks arrive, when someone comes to the door, and when other vehicles stop in front of the house. (She hardly ever barks outdoors.)

7:45 am. Arf, arf, arf.

I come down, open the front door, and see that the yellow recycling bins are upside down on the grass. I retrieve them, thank Drew for the alert, and go back up to my home office.

8:25 am. Arf, arf, arf.

I come down, open the front door, and see that the yard debris can has been
collected. I put the can away and come in. I thank Drew again, but tell
her (for the first time ever), "it's OK, we pay for this service, and three
trucks come by. One more will be by later, to pick up the garbage". And I go
back upstairs.

Much later, I come down, look out the door--the garbage has been collected.
There had been no barking. When a garbage truck has stopped in front, she
has always barked before. Turns out I just hadn't explained it to her.

All right, which is it? Does she read minds, or does she understand English? I suspect the latter is more plausible, but who knows. Maybe both. And incidentally, she has enormous variety in HOW she barks. It varies from low howls to high pitched yips and all sorts of combinations in between. And she makes the same sequence in a given situation each time. It is unmistakable when it's Jane, a delivery truck, or someone on the porch. She understands what WE say. Wish we could understand what SHE says.

ANOTHER STORY...  Jane's sister Wanda visited us in the Fall of 2004.  She is an animal lover and dog owner, but hadn't interacted with a German Shepherd before.  She frankly felt we were anthromorphizing our dog's abilities. 

Drew will pick up a ball and push it into our hands when she wants to catch it.  Wanda was in the kitchen, and Drew did that to her.  Wanda, who was concentrating on her conversation with us, took the ball, but said to Drew, "I'm not going to throw this for you."

Without hesitation, Drew went back to her, took the ball back out of her hand, walked over to Eric, and put it in HIS hand!  (He threw it for her and she caught it.)

We don't know if Wanda was convinced Drew understands English from this little interchange, but she was clearly flabbergasted, and laughed long and loud!

These are but two examples. We have something new to confirm that every day. (We'll never know how she knew what "perambulate" means the first time we used it--she was a few months old--to disguise the fact that we were talking about taking a walk. She had never heard the word before, but whipped around, got up, and looked pointedly at the leash.) Every German Shepherd owner has stories like this, apparently. (But longhairs are sweeter!)


Morning Games

Drew's morning ritual with us includes interaction with Jane, in which Jane starts wiggling her fingers by her face while rapidly shuffling up to her, to which Drew responds by getting extremely excited, emitting an odd little squeal which is certainly not a whine, but which conveys an almost unbearably eager happiness!  It's amazing to see! 

When that's done, Jane starts playing a little game she invented for Drew, in which she calls for her to bring her a specific toy from her assortment.  Drew knows the toys and responds perfectly to the right toy.  Or usually does.  But when she gets bored with doing the same thing over and over like this, she plays an alternate version of the game which she invented herself:  "Bring the wrong toy"...but with a twist. 

When in this playfully contrary mood, when asked to get a specific toy, she dashes for a toy, grabs a wrong toy in her mouth, and starts to scramble back to Jane, looking up at her.  Jane shakes her head "no".  (How many dogs understand what that means without having been trained?)  Then Drew skids to a halt, drops that toy (with a head shake, she flings it at the floor, in fact), and runs back for another wrong one.  She keeps this up till she's ready for her treat, when she deftly grabs the right toy, screeches up to Jane--arriving in a seated position--drops the toy, and gently accepts the treat. 

Whenever we dream up a game to play with Drew, she always finds a way to change it in her own way, to make it her own!

Another, similar game Jane invented when she is on the sofa in the living room, is asking Drew to bring a specific toy to her there.  Drew, at first, would drop it in her lap.  So Jane told her she'd give her a treat if she picked it up from her lap and dropped it on the floor.  When Drew mastered that right away, Jane told her she would have to nudge the can in which the treats are located, then lie down, to get her treat.  Now, Drew just brings in the toy, drops it in Jane's lap, picks it up again, drops it on the floor, nudges the can, and lies down, waiting for the treat....the whole sequence, when asked to bring a specific toy, with no further commands given.  In fact, more often than not she now picks up one of her toys and does it without being asked at all...when she just feels like a treat!  (And now she has learned that since she has gotten us trained to accept that behavior, she doesn't even have to go back to her spot in the kitchen to get another toy...she'll just pick up the toy she received the treat for, disappear in the direction of the kitchen, turn around, trot on back with the same toy, and go through the same sequence again.  She has us REALLY well trained, because she now usually gets a treat out of us for that bit of strategy!)

Is resting upside down too undignified for a discussion of canine intellect? (Is comfort dumb??)

Consider This....

There is a lot of chauvinism and bigotry in we human beings as regards other species.  Many scientists are still reluctant to believe that animals have feelings, let alone think.  The scientists tend to define intelligence by the human ways of displaying intelligence:  Inventing things, developing a complicated shared speech vocabulary, building and using machines...all things we have seen dogs and other animals do, by the way.

Do animals have feelings?  If you have any doubt whatever, you haven't been paying attention to the world around you, and nothing we could say would persuade you.

As for intelligence...  Well...  Consider this.

We got Drew at about nine weeks.  We naturally expected a few little mistakes in the house, particularly since she not only had not received any potty training, but was at an age which for a dog is considered a bit too young to be housebroken.

Yet, she has never once, ever, had a mistake in the house.  It became obvious pretty quickly that she was not only determined not to potty in the house, but was VERY determined not to potty in the house.  If an urgent call occurred, she would whine and go to the door and look at us, but even if it took us a while for us to catch on (humans can be a little obtuse), she would wait to relieve herself till she was outside.  From nine weeks to this very day, that is the way she is, and we can only guess she picked up this concept from her mother, who of course was housebroken.  So:

1)  Drew, as early as nine weeks, was able to set and keep a social goal of her own, unrelated to canine instinct.

It must have been a couple of years (we blush to admit) before we began to catch on that Drew had a tendency to wait to drink water until she saw us pick up the leash. 

By golly, the main time we see her drink turns out to be when we pick up the leash, and she knows she is about to go out.  She is reluctant to drink water, despite its being instinctive behavior, until she is sure about that.

2)  Drew has noticed, and understood, the relationship between drinking and urinating, and plans accordingly.

...We know adult humans who have yet to really make this connection--from our observation of their behavior!

And Drew's behavior in this matter leads to a conclusion which is inescapable, but which we have never seen publicly drawn about the behavior of any dog.  Please be aware we are not claiming Drew is unique, because we now understand that there is much more going on in the head of many different dogs, and other animals as well, than most people ever notice...although we do believe that "the lights are on and somebody's home" much more with German Shepherds than with the canine species in general.  Just our opinion!  But, here's that inescapable conclusion we mentioned, and please think about it a little:

3)  Drew is taking precautions to attain her own voluntary personal decisions.

Got that?  She takes precautions! 

That means she is thinking ahead (and you'd be surprised how many scientists still believe that only humans can visualize the future in any way, and can take action based on that)....and, she is taking action based on her own conscious principles and decisions.


Fine Dining!

It is a joy to watch Drew eat from a fork.  Unfortunately, she can't hold one, but when offered a food item on a fork, she figured it out immediately--probably from watching us eat--and gently and correctly took the morsel from the fork and ate it.  Just exactly as a human being would, except perhaps a little more politely and genteelly.  We wonder how many other dogs could eat like this.  Probably any other German Shepherd!  But perhaps not some other pooches, who might snap at the food, and perhaps stab themselves in the mouth with the tines.  Be careful if you try this!  We assume no liability!  But, Drew could give lessons... 

There was at this time a restaurant in Portland, the Berlin Inn (later the Brooklyn House, alas now closed), which not only was by reputation the best German restaurant in the city, but which also observed the European custom of allowing the family dog at the table.  At least, on their open porch; Oregon law prohibits dogs in the indoor dining area.  Drew dined there on several occasions and loved the place.  She had Thanksgiving Dinner in 50 degree temperatures (Fahrenheit; that's 10 degrees Celsius) in November of 2003, with us and Karin and Mark Baer, and we ordered her a child's meal, with fondue appetizer, turkey and all the fixings, and a bit of pumpkin pie at the end of the meal.  She ate the whole thing from a fork, patiently waiting her turn while we had some of our meals before giving her the next bite of hers!  She enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner there again in November of 2004.

The above photo, and the two thumbnails on the main ("Welcome!") page of this website, were taken in the noon hour of Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, when the same four people joined her for Sunday Brunch.  The temperature was a record-breaking 83 on that date in bright sunshine, and Drew sat nicely beside the table and waited for Jane to give her forkfuls of her dinner (above)--and afterwards, her "New Yorkie Cheesecake" doggie dessert tart (thumbnail on main page).

A lady at the next table at one point exclaimed, "I have never seen a better behaved dog in my life!"  We think she was referring to Drew's table manners.


When Jane and Eric and Drew first saw the animated Walt Disney movie "Bolt", we all thought it was very entertaining and a great satire of Hollywood....and we noticed that Bolt himself clearly was a White German Shepherd.  Bolt could only be a GSD from his behavior, mannerisms, personality, ears, eyes, and intelligence.  And we noticed the movie had been produced by Pixar's John Lasseter, too.  So we had to see it again.

Each time we have seen this remarkable movie we see more.  Yes, it's entertaining just as it is.  But it is also a very deep parable about humanity and life itself, and it explores "deception" in all its forms and shades.  Eric says, "I could write a Masters Thesis, or a book, about this movie!"  And maybe he will. 

Among many other things, it is also:

  *  The most remarkable animation we have ever seen.  The eyes are magic, and are part of what give the characters depth and reality.  You can actually see what characters are thinking, and sense who they are, from their eyes alone.  And the ballistics of motion are simply incomparable.  The animators seemed to go out of their way to perform extremely subtle and difficult animations -- such as when Rhino's scratched plastic ball rolls back and forth in front of background objects.  Stop-motion almost any busy or active scene in the movie, and you will see accurate "flash expressions" that go by too fast to see in motion, but which add to the verisimilitude of the characters and situations. Read more about how they managed it all here.

  *  A simple story, consistently and meticulously told, that unfolds with richness and depth in a way that is deep but not obvious.  The Disney people promote this as a children's movie, totally missing the point.  It is actually a wise adult movie -- as adult a movie as we have seen, really -- yet there is nothing in it a child could not see, and children will thoroughly enjoy it on the level on which they can comprehend it. A "children's book" of the mid-1800's is now often thought of as the "Great American Novel" -- Samuel Clemens' (Mark Twain's) "Huckleberry Finn".  If it really is, we submit that "Bolt" may be the "Great American Movie" -- just as revealing about late 20th Century and early 21st Century America, as Twain's book was about its own era.

  * A great score -- the best we have heard specifically composed for an animated movie.  A British gentleman named John Powell composed it, and it is brilliant and moving and memorable.  The voice acting in the movie is superb, too.

We say, "You just can't help falling in love with Bolt!"  Well, he is a German Shepherd, after all.  We suggest you buy a copy of the DVD or BluRay disk for your collection.  And watch it many times!

The animators clearly display an uncanny knowledge of German Shepherds, and when we did a stop-motion in the final scene of the movie, we realized that the animators had probably done Internet research to see photos of German Shepherds in action -- and if they did, they probably visited Drew's website... Because, if you do a search for "German Shepherds", this website usually shows up well inside the top 100 sites -- probably because this website has been here, and regularly updated, since 2000....and while most German Shepherd sites are by breeders promoting their puppies, our site is all about German Shepherds as they really are.... 

What gives us the idea that the animators may have browsed through our website is that a particular stop-motion moment, from the final scene of "Bolt", is an almost exact mirror of one of the "Drew's Friends" photos which has been on this website for several years -- of Konig from Tulare, California.  Konig's photo, at the top of "Drew's Friends", is clearly an espeically touching one -- and the directors of "Bolt" needed a satisfying emotional release to conclude the film.

Below you see those two photos side by side.  Bolt appears a little blurred because he is moving fast in this scene, and blur is intentional in animations to convey realistic motion.  But notice he is in the same position as Konig, his legs in the same pose, with the same touching look at his owner, Penny -- who is in the same position, actually seemingly wearing the same clothing, as Konig's owner! 

Thus we think it is possible that there is a little bit of Drew, too, in the movie, since the animators would have browsed our whole site if they had reached the "Drew's Friends" page.  And, if so, there probably there is also a little bit of Drew and all of "Drew's Friends" reflected in Mr. Bolt, in this great movie, too....

"Bolt" is a (c) 2008 movie by Walt Disney Animation. We think this would have been one of Walt's favorites, had he lived to see it. And he WOULD have been very proud of it.
Living with Drew has been more of an education for us than for her!
Drew has raised our consciousness not only about dogs but about every living thing...all of which are probably a good deal smarter than we give them credit for.  But even so, Drew is really special.
By 2008, both Jane and Eric have heard her make a sound that really is un-doglike and we had no idea what it was about.  "mWAH".  Sounded like she was trying to blow us a kiss!
She would come up to us now and then, and say "mWAH".
We finally noticed that she always said it when we were standing near her bag of treats.  Then it dawned on us that we both usually ask her to "show me what you want" when near the treat bag, and she will then reach up and bonk the bag with her nose, then sit for a treat.
Holy smoke!  We finally realized:  She not only understands our language, but she is actually trying to speak to us in it!!  .....But only when we have failed to ask her what she WANTS.

And has Drew ever said anything else that we recognize as a word she is trying to use with us...?  Yes.  She has so much to say, and we can't make most of it out.  But, in 2011, as she and we were walking on the campus of nearby Reed College on a sunny summer day, along with a colleague of Jane's named Mike, Jane decided to walk into a building for a look, while Eric and Mike and Drew waited for her on a path outside.  As Jane walked into the buildilng, Drew cried out "ma ma"!  Sure sounded like that to Eric -- and Mike exclaimed, "Hey, she said 'ma ma'!"  (Needless to say, Jane refers to herself as mama, to Drew.) We have heard her say it at least twice more in the same situation -- in which Jane is walking away from Eric and Ms. Drew.

And here's something else that would probably confound the "experts". Drew in 2012-13 has gotten very friendly with our new mailman, who likes dogs and carries dog treats to pass out.  Prior to that she never paid much attention to mailpersons.  Now, on an afternoon walk, when she sees his Jeep-like square truck, with its panel doors in the back, she makes a beeline for the truck to see if he is there.

In the week before her 14th birthday in 2013, as Eric and Drew left the house for a walk, Eric noticed a postal vehicle at the curb -- but it was a station wagon type vehicle, quite different from the one Drew had grown to know.  The only thing that identified it as a postal vehicle was the square USPS eagle logo on the door; otherwise it was not the same at all.  Eric wondered idly if Drew would recognize what it was despite it being shaped entirely differently; certainly the "experts" would say she would not.

But -- she made a beeline for it when she spotted it. 

Apparently she recognized it the way we would -- by seeing the same logo on the door that was on the familiar little van -- even though she had had no reason till that point to expect that postal vehicles come in different shapes and styles!

No, Drew never did learn to dance. But some dogs do -- showing not just their "trainability", but that they completely understand what they are doing, and enjoy stylistic interaction with their owner to create an art form.

Originally on this website we presented an intricate five-minute woman-dog routine to music in a British dog competition that left the audience speechless at the end -- but, alas, that hotlink eventually was taken down by the BBC, and no longer works.

Recently, a friend has sent us a difficult and stylized routine done to a former U.S. hit dance record by Chubby Checker, featuring what looks like a Border Collie and her owner in Brazil.  Not only does the dog clearly understand the art it is a part of, but she manages to keep the rhythm of the record throughout! 

And this one comes to us in an MP4 recording, so it should not disappear from our website anytime in the future.  Click on the icon at right -- and enjoy!


And you know, it's NOT just Drew...

We've been meeting many new friends lately, each with similar dogs and similar stories.  We've now set up a special page just for Drew's new friends here!  (And if you'd like to join them just e-mail us a photo and an introduction!)


Want to return to the Welcome page, and our personal hotlinks...?

Want to take another look at Drew's photo page...?