Q: I know you’re big and strong and all that, but what all’s going on upstairs? Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you smarter than my dog? – Jeff Sudges, Minnesota
A: I don’t know who your dog is, but I’ll take on lil Fido there in a game of wits any day of the week. Truth is, my kind a lot smarter than most people think we are. I am particularly clever—I mean, I’m answering your questions. Sheesh.
But to take the high road here, I’ll answer your question with some straightforward facts. We bears have excellent memories and can recognize a bear we’ve met years after the first encounter. We can also remember prime foraging spots for up to a decade.
We may roam solo a good bit, but bears have a complex social structure organized by both vocal and physical communication. We’re pretty well educated—our mothers give us instruction on plant ID, hunting and fishing methods, and how food sources change from season to season almost as soon as we can walk. A little more thorough than that YMCA camp you went to as a kid, eh?
I know I’m a little biased, but think about it: omnivorous creatures (humans, raccoons, bears) tend to be on the brainy side. Like you, we bears can figure out how to open doorknobs and car doors—and to wave, dance, and play instruments .(I’ve got some circus performers in my family tree.)
As for your dog, well, I can promise you I have a larger brain relative to my body than any carnivore (your pup included). Given that, I can pretty much guarantee that Fido isn’t, as they say, smarter than the average bear.