Smarter Than We Think

Ah, bones.

The one possession that Maia will guard zealously.

Bones are given carefully, and equally. Always supervised.

Typically, Maia will stop gnawing on the her bone first, get some water, then carefully but determinedly approach Meadow, still chewing on hers. Some set of signals pass between them, and Maia ends up taking Meadow's bone from her - taking it from right between Meadow's paws - and chewing on it as her own. Meadow will then get up, drink some water, and return to the bone Maia has left behind. It's a wonderful lesson in benign dominance and sharing. If only we humans could do it so well.

I saw some especially nice "dog bones" at the grocery store yesterday, so bought them and gave each girl one. It was a hot afternoon, but they found a shady spot in the yard and started gnawing. I stayed inside, in the relative cool.

Soon I noticed Maia coming around to the sunny side of the house, bone in mouth, searching. She likes to bury bones. But that requires that she find, then guard, the burial site, lest Meadow find her treasure.

Maia paced around, looking, looking, pacing, noticing me watching through the window, pacing some more; I finally gave her some peace and quit watching. A few minutes later, I noticed she no longer had the bone in her mouth, and was laying in a spot I don't usually see her in.

Meadow, meanwhile, continued to chew away on her bone on the other side of the house. I went to check on her. She'd eaten all but a small portion of the bone, which I took from her and tossed over the fence, for fear she'd swallow it whole and have an upset stomach for days.

Maia continued to guard her spot. If Meadow came near, Maia would get up and lay even closer. Meadow never invaded Maia's invisible boundary.

I tried to discover just where Maia had buried the bone, but she'd done a good job of disguising it. She seemed almost proud that I couldn't find it - she watched me closely, intently, as I walked in the general area, almost giving away where it was hidden by getting up and moving in close with me, but.... still I didn't find it. I even used the shovel to dig where I thought she'd buried it, only to come up empty. I think she smirked. It was almost like she was thinking, "Well, if she can't find it, then no way will Meadow find it." Maia was forgetting, though, that we humans don't have near the sense of smell that dogs do. Meadow's really good at finding buried treasure.

Meadow - full of the raw meat and bone fragments she'd just eaten - came inside to lay on the cool floors. Maia stayed outside, guarding.

After an hour or so, Maia came to the door and barked - her usual signal to come inside. I opened the door, but instead of coming inside, she made it very clear I was to follow her outside. I did so, and she quite eagerly and excitedly motioned me to follow her around the side of the house. This was new behavior from her, very intriguing.

I quickly guessed from her body language that she'd reburied her bone. As I moved to the shady side of the house, she moved with me, a few steps at a time, watching me scan the ground, examining spots that looked slightly disturbed. She kept exchanging direct looks with me, then glancing at the ground, then back at me. Amazing in the directness of the message: Can you find it?

This was a test: could I find where she'd now buried the bone? I couldn't. This seemed to make her very happy, confirming again that she'd done an excellent job of hiding it.

I felt so used.

She came back in the house with me, satisfied with her skills at securing her treasure.

The next time Meadow asked to go outside - well after dark - Maia was at the door in a second, wanting to get outside first. I opened the door, making sure Meadow waited for Maia to go first (sometimes I help her be alpha - it keeps peace in the house). I watched Maia walk or trot around the side of the house to the spot where I suspected (but never confirmed) she had buried her bone. Meadow followed, but at a respectful distance. Maia layed down, again in a spot I've never seen her choose before. Guarding. Meadow curled up nearby.

I went to bed. Hoping there wouldn't be any arguments between them overnight.

There weren't.

I doubt Maia got much sleep, guarding her treasure all night.

It's a 24/7 job, guarding your half-gnawed, covered-in-dirt bone from your sister. Very stressful.

I need to find it, and throw it away, so Maia can get some rest. She's been guarding it all day today, too.

PS: Photos show just how dusty dirty the girls get from our trail runs. They're now grey and brown, rather than white.