People love to talk about how smart their kids and dogs are. Most of the time we just smile and nod without taking them seriously. That’s exactly what Dr. Barbra Smuts did when a woman contacted her with incredible claims about her Doberman named Donnie.
Donnie was found living on the streets and sent to an animal shelter when he was four years old. He was timid and didn’t trust people at first and even had to be trained to go up and down stairs when he was first adopted. To make him feel better his owner bought him a lot of stuffed toys and bones. His first shapes followed soon after. Most of the first designs were triangles. I know what you’re thinking; any three toys make a triangle. These were different though; they would be evenly spaced and composed of the same types of stuffed animals. His owner quickly noticed his creations and started sending pictures to animal behaviorists.
At first the story seemed too outrageous for Dr. Smuts. Dogs don’t do this so everyone was skeptical at the beginning. Was someone placing the toys in these shapes and then taking pictures? Had Donnie’s owner trained him to do this somehow? Was Donnie reacting to the body language of his owner without her even knowing it?
To remove any of these factors Dr. Smuts went to visit Donnie and do a controlled experiment. Donnie was left alone with nothing but his toys and a video camera so that she could observe his behavior. What they caught on tape was astonishing.
Not only did Donnie arrange the toys in patterns but he also arranged them by color and stuffed animal type. One shape would be a triangle composed of stuffed frogs while the next would be parallel lines of toys a certain color. Some of his creations would have all the animals face up or down while others would have them all holding hands.
What is Donnie trying to tell people with his creations? Is there a message in his art or does he just he just enjoy being creative? Unfortunately there aren’t any other dogs that we know of that share Donnie’s passion for creativity. Hopefully more people will come forward with similar dogs and we will gain a new perspective to what’s going on in their heads.