Friday, January 02, 2009

Obedience is a virtue...

...for with delayed gratification comes great reward.



Update: The posting of this video seems to have inspired inordinate scepticism among otherwise intelligent commenters. In the interest of providing evidence sufficient to ye of little faith, and of promoting peace in the blogosphere among Christian kin, I offer the following as a public service: The dog in the video is real. He is not a robot, as a commenter at one website speculated, nor has he been photoshopped, according to another. He has a name, Skidboot. He's an Australian cattle dog, known also as a blue-heeler, widely considered to be among the more (if not the most) intelligent of the canine family, to the extent that if he is not taught tricks and given complicated tasks to perform, his behavior tends toward destructive mischief. Sort of like people. He needs to be 'focused', as they say. Skidboot actually achieved a mini-celebrity status for his feats, being featured on TV shows ranging from Oprah and Jay Leno to Animal Planet's Most Amazing Pets (or something like that), and being invited to churches, schools, etc., to entertain the kids and put a spark back into the lives of old folks. You can watch his story here. You will recognize his owner's voice at once. The film was shot in 2006, at which time Skidboot was in the process of going blind. He passed away in 2007.

Sorry, but you doubters are going to have to make a better argument than "he's just a dog" to deny Skidboot the possibility of seeing his master in heaven.

21 comments:

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't believe it. I think he recorded the voice-over separately.

wl said...

You cynic. If so, what was making the dog behave the way he did, if not voice commands?

TS said...

Ha, I said the exact words "I don't believe it" audibly before I hit this comments link. To see my words immediately returned in Lydia's comment was funny. Lydia's right.

wl said...

Actually, Lydia might be right. Do either of you have any evidence that she's right? That a dog cannot respond to commands in the way this one does?

Lydia McGrew said...

I haven't worked extensively with training dogs. I had one as a kid and that was it. And I've read a lot of dog stories with details about dog training. So you probably have more evidence than I do. I would say the most suspicious thing in it was the part where he said, "When I say three, then you can git it, but not before I say three." I would expect a dog to respond to the words "git it" and grab the ball at that time and to be unable to process the complex nature of the command: When I say this (but I'm not actually _saying_ it now, just _describing_ it), then you can get it (but I'm not commanding you to get it now, just giving you a set of later conditions). It seems to me that the dog may have actually behaved as it did in response to a series of commands, but that they were different and less confusing commands from the ones recorded in the Youtube, which were then put in that way to make it seem more amazing and amusing.

wl said...

I've appended an update that might interest you.

TS said...

I checked Snopes.com and didn't see anything about Skidboot, but your update does give the video much more credibility.

Lydia McGrew said...

I didn't say anything about his not seeing his master in heaven. I hope he does, for goodness sake.

I hope you were joking. I pointed to a specific aspect of the commands that seemed to me implausible as an actual command, given its use of the use-mention convention as a semantic matter.

I would also note that the voice sounded to me like it was recorded inside, whereas the scene is taking place outside. And the laughing audience sounds like a laugh track.

Bernadette said...

Amazing...Skidboot follows direction better than most adults I know! How long do you think it would take for me to train Cedar to behave that way?

wl said...

...given its use of the use-mention convention as a semantic matter.

Are you trying to get technical on me? Did you watch the video I linked to? The dog did these things on national television where it could not be faked. It's time to admit that, in all likelihood, the video has not been faked or tampered with at all, except for the dubbed music.

I only mentioned heaven as a pre-emptive strike against certain others. I do remember that you're willing to let dogs in.

Bern: How long do you think it would take for me to train Cedar to behave that way?

He's so spoiled that no amount of time would suffice.

alaiyo said...

Just for the record, I didn't doubt the video for a moment; I was just too lazy to post a response (it's break time!). I've seen dogs trained to do pretty complex things (not quite this much so!), and I've seen horses trained to do some pretty amazing feats, too . . . Dogs bred to herd sheep or cattle have to be able to follow instructions really, really well for the sake of the animals under their care. I expect, Lydia, that tone of voice may have to do with the reason the dog doesn't respond to the explanation of the command before it's actually given.

Bill, I like what you said about the dog needing complex tasks to stay out of mischief -- like people! I shall be doing my best to keep my students out of trouble again for the next few months . . . though I'm quite sure some of my commands will be far simpler and my students far more prone not to "get" them . . . sigh. Six more days of relative freedom (just making up the syllabi and all that . . .). Hope your new semester goes beautifully.

Lydia McGrew said...

Okay, I watched the other video, and I'm convinced. (See, Bill, I'm amenable to evidence.) I saw him doing the same "1, 2, 7" thing on the other show there. Obviously he's just found a way with lots of patience to teach the dog to recognize the "When I say _____, then you can git it, but not before I say _____" type of complex command.

I have a friend with an Australian shepherd. Never trained with sheep or anything. It herds the family. Doesn't like it when they're not all in the same room. Just instinct. It also herds the other dog in the family by nipping at its heels.

wl said...

just making up the syllabi and all that

I was going to make some adjustments, but don't have the energy.

Just instinct. Even instincts are pretty amazing. I sometimes ask my students (after reading a particular essay) how the trap-door spider knows how to build a door, or how the female Pepsis wasp knows to dig a hole just wide enough for her tarantla victim to fit through. "Instinct!" they say, or "Evolution!" - upon which I point out that they've just described the mystery by giving it a name, not by explaining it. And when those instincts are capable of being harnessed to the commands of another creature, as of dogs to humans, it gets even weirder.

I had thought Skidboot's master had somehow taught him to respond to, say, "3" as permission to pounce, but he says 3 a couple times before the pounce, so I still haven't figured it out. Maybe it's the inflection he gives to it.

wl said...

I really do know how to spell tarantula.

Lydia McGrew said...

Tim says to me occasionally that he finds it nearly incredible that the entire range of dog breeds that we presently have are just versions of domesticated wolves. But the fact that wolves can and do interbreed with dogs to produce fertile offspring is pretty much conclusive. Somehow, long ago, some wolf or wolf-like animals were domesticated by man, and they had, somehow, the potential for all the different "instinctive" actions that we now find *separated out* in different man-bred dog breeds: pointing in pointers, herding in collies and other sheepdogs, retrieving in retrievers, and so forth. You never saw a collie point, did you? But setters will do it even when they've never been trained. Setters, on the other hand, don't naturally herd, but at least some collies will do it untrained. And so forth.

I don't even get how this is possible.

wl said...

It's that 'telos' in things, as Zippy might say. It may be a dog's life, but at least it's porpoise-driven.

Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I think Skidboot is waiting till he hears "three" embedded in the sing-songy list of numbers that constitutes the cue. He knows the first instances are only preliminary.

wl said...

I suspect so. But it's quite amazing that he can extract the embedded 3 from the preliminary instances.

smockmomma said...

the smock LOVES skidboot. along with a mess of other Tejans. he's practically a state treasure here in TEXAS, may he rest in doggy peace.

i happen to own a demonic dog -- uh-erm, an australian shepherd mix -- and in the interest of self-preservation and civility in the smockmaison, i've paid ridiculously exorbitant amounts of money to be trained myself in order to train my dog. apparently the key to training almost any type of dog is being hyper-consistant. it's difficult and unbelievably type consuming, but it can be done. i PERSONALLY have not managed to do it with my own hellish canine, but i've SEEN it done -- in real life, too!

and, yes, while dogs hear us talking and it sounds like "blah blah blah blah," when we utilize certain command words, it supposedly *eventually* sounds like "blah blah HEEL, blah blah blah SIT blah." or, as in the case of sweet ol' skidboot, "blah blah THREE blah." bless his heart.

wl said...

Sort of like training a husband, isn't it?

smockmomma said...

you ain't just whistlin' dixie, sir.