Are You Smarter Than a Poodle?


What can we learn about obedience and freedom from a dog? Turns out, quite a lot.

Our Standard Poodle, Duc (“Duke”), turns 8 on March 17th, 2017; yes, he shares a birthday with St. Patrick. Perhaps because they both like to chase snakes.

One of my goals with Duc when we got him (when he was just weaned at 8 weeks) was eventually to have him completely under voice control outside, despite the many distractions. On the mountain trails that are so very near our home – and so very near to my heart – I wanted him to have off-leash freedom all the time, even when walkers, runners, mountain bikers, horses and other dogs were in sight or even right next to us. My desire was to allow him to be free to run his heart out; I wanted to share in his joy by being able to watch be him be free in the open. Like doing important things – chasing butterflies and deer, running ahead to sniff something interesting, dashing ahead for no other reason than to be able to run back. And I wanted to be able to enjoy my long hikes with him without having to deal with a dog on a leash. BTW, my wife’s (Marcia), goal with Duc was simply to have him stop using our home as his bathroom…:).

When Duc was 9 months old, our superb trainer, Sarah Fricke, started showing me how to use a mild electric shock collar, similar to one that is used to train hunting dogs, to teach him to stay with me on the trails – sans leash – despite whatever might be going on. And to come and stay with me – instantly – whenever called. I was training him to trade off obeying my occasional verbal commands, and never getting out of sight for his complete freedom otherwise.

It worked. Duc’s obedience has earned him joyous freedom. And we can all do the same thing; earn liberating freedom with simple obedience. Not that it was easy for either one of us, but it worked; Duc now runs completely free – sometimes for hours – as we go along fire trails, single-track trails, and, occasionally, no trail at all.  He’ll race away off the trails (staying in sight), play joyfully in the dirt or the snow and chase critters–in general, having the time of his life out there.

Given the quality of the instruction from Sarah, I was not surprised when Duc’s training worked. Relieved that the months of his core training were over, but not surprised. What did surprise me was the observation I made and the learning that I received. My observation: Duc has earned this joy (ecstasy, actually) and freedom by learning to obey. My learning: I can do the same thing, if I am as smart as a poodle.

Let’s look at some examples together. I am learning that if I “obey” myself and exercise the discipline to get the things done that I have in front of me, I can relax and truly enjoy the freedom that comes from relaxing. Whether that relaxing is in the form of reading, occasionally watching re-runs of a favorite TV show – or just sitting on the deck thinking, I can do it with a light and happy heart. After I have gotten the heavy lifting done.

Many of us have heard the advice that recommends telling the truth, because that way you don’t have to remember what you said to whom. That remembering can involve some emotional stress – especially if we get caught, or, perhaps worse, worry about being caught. Where does the obedience part come in here? Obedience to who or what you see as your creator would certainly urge not to lie. Absence a belief in a Creator, whatever you have as your True North would have the same effect. And not having to remember what we said to whom has to be liberating, not to mention the joy that comes from simply being honest. “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” Shakespeare. And “rich” includes freedom.

Imagine the freedom that would come from obeying the “commands” that you take seriously. Perhaps the Ten Commandments, or something similar? The tenets and philosophies that your worldview puts in front of you to follow? Or maybe just going through the day without personally criticizing anyone – or gossiping about them when they are not around to critique. See yourself at the end of such a day. Peaceful. Emotional freedom. With a smile on your face. Glass of wine or cup of coffee – or your favorite beverage either in hand or in mind.

Let’s end this piece of our time together with two questions:

  1. Question 1. Why don’t I? In other words, why am I not as smart as a poodle?
  2. Question 2. Are you as smart as a canine? Can you earn the freedoms he has through your obedience and discipline?

I’d love for you to share your thoughts below. I am interested. As are others.


Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200 feet in Colorado Springs.

Will Luden
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