Somehow, I keep coming back to this... What separates the 'special' dogs from all the others? It always seems to be some combination of talent, physical ability and presence, personality, and intelligence.
With bird dogs it is hard to overestimate the importance of intelligence. They learn from birds, from us, from each other, from everything around them. They can learn things that please us, or things that displease us. Purposeful, self-directed ground application when hunting reveals learning and intelligence. We say that birds make the dog. True. All we can hope to do is expose the dog to birds, help him to be successful, and add some polish to their manners. Most of it is on the dog.
Some people say that dogs cannot think. Maybe not, but they can sure figure things out.
One example that comes to mind is a border collie that was in the news recently, the dog had learned over 1,000 words and would associate other words to modify a request - “Get the green ball.” as opposed to “Get the ball.”
But measuring canine intelligence is always polluted by the fact that the researchers are human and limited in their ability to understand and interpret observed behavior. I think that, perhaps, the dogs we think are most intelligent are the ones that have lived close to us and put in the effort required to understand us and that, by itself, requires a good deal of intelligence. My setter, Ted, just came to sit next to my chair, cocked his head and made a tiny whine. “Outside?” I said, and he gave a yip and headed to the back door. He learned how to communicate what he wanted without my training him to do it – he trained ME.
Psychology research has shown that human faces are asymmetrical with the gaze instinctively moving to the right side of a face upon encountering other humans to obtain information about their emotions and state. Research at the University of Lincoln (2008) shows that dogs share this instinct when meeting a human being, and only when meeting a human being (ie, not other animals or other dogs). As such they are the only non-primate species known to do so.
Did you know this? Well, apparently your dog does.
When I look into a dogs' eyes I can see that there is an intelligent presence. There's someone at home.