Labradors, as Steve Kuusisto will be glad to tell you, are genius dogs. That's why they make the best guide dogs. Steve's partial to Yellow Labs but Black Labs and Chocolate Labs are no intellectual slouches either.
A Lab, seeing a pick-up truck barreling down the street, will say to himself, "Ah ha, a Ford F-250, a class vehicle, but it's a 2003 model and I note from the pristine condition of the paint job and the rather too even hum of the motor that this is not a truck that has been used to do any real work. I'll bet the last load this driver hauled was a set of modular furniture from IKEA. Amateur. That's far too much machine for him to handle. I'll give him a bark to let him know he's out of his league and let him go by."
An average dog, spotting the same truck, will say, "Hey, he's going too fast! I'd better run out in the street and bite his tires to make him slow down."
A Lab, prowling about in the fields near his house and coming up to a line of trees that marks the beginning of a woods, will hear a twig snap and stop, thinking, "Hmm. My mistress read in the paper this morning that today is the first day of bow hunting season. I wonder..." And he'll take a sniff of the air and say, "Ah ha! The pleasant aroma of coffee sweetened with Jim Beam. Someone is in there waiting for a doe to wander by and judging by just how sweet his coffee smells, I'll wager he is not in the right shape to notice the difference between a deer and a large brownish dog. Best if I stay out of the woods for a month or so."
An average dog, coming to the same point at the edge of the woods and hearing the same twig snap, will pause, sniff the air, and say, "Yum! Sandwiches! I'll go in and see if the friendly person who brought them will let me have a bite!"
A Lab, bounding out to the bank of a local pond one crisp winter morning and finding it frozen over, will stop at the edge to think it over thus: "Hmmm. Something's wrong with the water. It looks too still and...hard. It wasn't like that last week. Ah ha!" Labs like to say ah-ha. "It's been very cold the last few nights. I'll bet that's ice!" He'll put a paw tentatively on the ice. "Yep. Ice. The pond's frozen. But! True, the nights have been so cold I've needed to sleep in the kids' beds, but the days have been fairly warm for this time of year. I don't believe the ice could be thick enough to support my weight yet. I'll go around."
An average dog, romping up the pond, will pull up short and say, "Whoa! Who took the water away? Oh well. I guess this means I don't have to walk around. I can run straight across!"
And a Lab, seeing the sun glinting off something in the grass, will approach that something slowly and cautiously until he's close enough to make out exactly what it is and stop to say, "Glass! Some careless person has smashed a beer bottle against that small rock. Judging by the thickness of the shards and the unusual green tint, I'd say it's an import. I prefer a good domestic micro-brew. But I'd better not just ignore it. Some barefoot child may come along and get a nasty cut. I'll dash home, get my mistress, and by dragging a garbage bag out from under the sink, let her know that there's something that she needs to pick up, and she'll follow me back here to clean up this mess."
But an average dog, catching sight of the glass sparkling in the sun, will say, "Ooooooh! Shiny!"
Now, Chance, a dog from around here who has lived a life fraught with misadventure, is a Yellow Lab. A genius dog. So there has to be a good explanation for why he's managed over the last couple of years to:
Get run over by a pick-up truck.
Get shot through the abdomen by a hunter's arrow.
Fall through the ice and almost drown.
And cut his paw on broken glass so bad he needed forty stitches to close up the wound.
If I had a dog with Chance's luck, I wouldn't let him out of the yard.
Then again, if I had a dog with Chance's luck, one day I'd go out back to call him in for supper and find him hanging on the fence, upside down, with his back paws stuck through the chain links, a look of utter bafflement on his face.
How has Chance gotten himself into this much trouble?
The explanation can't be that he's dumb.
It must be that he's just unlucky.
Considering that Chance is still wandering around, a target for more bad luck, he must also be very lucky.
A real genius dog: You can listen to Steve Kuusisto talking about his first guide dog, Corky, a genius among genius Labs, on NPR's All Things Considered here.
And if you haven't yet read Steve's wonderful memoir, Planet of the Blind, which finishes with the story of how Corky came along to save Steve's life, you're missing out on a treat.