Beau the Labrador knows all the usual tricks like “sit”, “roll over”, but he prefers something a little more challenging like subtracting, dividing, multiplying. Yup, you guessed it, this pooch is a canine mathematician.
The 12-year-old black Labrador retriever is probably smarter than a lot of people when it comes to math, considering he can multiply, subtract and even bark the square root of some numbers. Vince Devlin, of the Missoulian, visited Beau at his summer retreat on Lake Flathead, Montana. He lives with his owner, Melissa Canady, in Augusta, Georgia, but during the hot summer months he spends his time with Melissa’s parents, Dave and Patti Madsen. Dave is actually the one who taught him everything he knows about math, after the man noticed he was brighter than the average puppy.
Photo by Tom Bauer/Missoulian
Beau’s story began twelve years ago, when his owner, Melissa, was still in college, at the Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga.. One day, her roommates found a puppy on their doorstep, took him in, fed him, took care of him and put up posters around campus, advertising a lost dog. After two weeks the girls got no answer to their posters and Melissa was sure the 3-month-old puppy was hers to keep. But then one day the owner called, and he wanted Beau back. The girl was so devastated she just couldn’t stop crying, so her boyfriend (who later became her husband) contacted the owner and offered him $200 for the dog. Sensing he could make a lot more money, the man asked for double that, so the loving boyfriend forked over the sum and took Beau to Melissa. Guess what happened next? She started crying again, only this time they were tears of happiness.
Because Melissa and her roommate were living in a no-pets building at the time, her parents had to take Beau in for a while. Although he’s been around dogs all his life, Dave Madsen quickly realized this particular canine was very smart. Even as a pup, he’d nudge him to get up, then counteract every move he made, so the retired AT&T executive decided to teach him math. It all began with Dave laying out a single bone and teach Beau to bark once. Then he’d add another and teach him to bark twice. Then take one away and teach him to bark once, add more, take away more, until he got the trick. Eventually he learned to do math without the dog bones, and from there the questions got more complicated, although they tried to keep the answers below 10, to avid long barks.
Now, Beau can answer questions like “If 3X equals 9, what does X equal?” by barking three times, “Nine minus five? ” by barking four times, how old he is, by barking 12 times, and can even tell how many people are present around him. He always ads +1 to the number of men, because he includes himself, which totally makes sense. Beau can bark the number of cars parked in the driveway, and the square roots of small numbers, and almost always gets it right. He’s not perfect, just like us humans, he gets it wrong on occasions, but teacher Dave says his pooch gives the right answer around 85% of the time.
But really now, how does a canine do calculus? Dave must signal him or something, right? In fact, he had a friend in Atlanta who was determined to prove he was signaling the dog, so he took Beau out on the back deck and asked him all kinds of questions for 30 minutes. When they returned, all the man had to say was “You know what? That dog’s a genius!” So even if Madsen is out of Beau’s line of sight or out of the room, he’ll answer whatever math questions you yourself ask him. According to the Madsens, the canine math genius always pays a lot of attention to what people say, and he intently stares at the person who’s talking.
Believe it or not, Dave and his son Matt taught Beau to answer math questions in Spanish and he even reads them off large notepads. He can tell the difference between the “plus” and “minus” signs, and almost always barks the right number of times. You can always tell when he’s done answering because his ears always shoot into an upright and locked position after the last bark, as he’s waiting for his treat. if he doesn’t get a nice treat after each right answer, Beau gets bored after two-three question, but if he gets rewards, he’ll do math all day long.
For Beau’s complete story and a video of him answering math questions, visit the Missoulian.