Extraordinary Animals

This lighthearted documentary series profiles remarkable animals across the globe. The last instalment of the series focuses on some truly Herculean hounds – three working dogs who are so adept at their jobs that they leave their human counterparts in the dust. There is Saxon, the pooch who can sniff out suspicious circumstances in burnt buildings; Bilbo, the craggy canine who patrols the dangerous shores of Cornwall; and Orson, the awesome avalanche rescue dog.

Human beings are only just realising how valuable an asset man’s best friend really is. There are fiveand- a-half million domestic dogs in Britain, but only a fraction of them have important jobs to do. Saxon is a three-year-old Labrador who is the prize asset of the Hampshire Arson Task Force. He has the amazing ability to smell ignitable fluids in burnt-out buildings and prove that fires were started deliberately. “We can deploy Saxon into a fire scene, and Saxon will search that fire scene a lot faster than a human fire investigator with the old conventional apparatus,” says Saxon’s proud owner Graham.

The effervescent Labrador loves to chase tennis balls that Graham throws him, and has been trained to smell minute traces of petrol, lighter fluid and other combustibles, knowing that if he does so he will get the reward of a tennis ball to chase.

Wearing a fire-resistant jacket and little mittens to protect his paws, Saxon bounds into the fire station where Graham has left random droplets of petrol, and eagerly locates them in seconds, pointing at the exact spot with his nose and frantically pointing with a paw. “Work is play and play is work with Saxon,” beams Graham, tossing his canine charge a much-coveted tennis ball. Can Saxon prove his worth in a test situation – a burnt-out building with only tiny droplets of petrol scattered around the wreckage?

Another admirable animal is Bilbo, a five-yearold Newfoundland, who is a trusty sidekick to lifeguard Steve Jamieson. Steve has patrolled the hazardous coastline of Sennon Cove in Cornwall for 32 years. His secret weapon in rescuing imperilled surfers and swimmers is his huge, bearlike partner who can swim with immense power, and has been responsible for saving many lives.

“They used to use [Newfoundlands] in ‘Moby Dick’ days on whaling ships,” explains Steve. “When the men used to row out and try to harpoon the whale by hand, quite often these boats would capsize and the men thrown to the sea. Two or three of these dogs would swim out to where the men were and drag them back.”

Bilbo, despite his lumbering gait and unwieldy frame, is perfectly adapted for life in the water. He has webbing around his paws, a strong tail which acts as a rudder in the water, and a thick, shaggy coat of fur. “In effect, he’s actually got his own wetsuit,” says Steve. Bilbo proves his staggering skills by pulling Steve around in the water with ease. However, can Bilbo outdo a 25-year-old super-fit lifeguard in the water?

Completing the trio of wonder-dogs is awesome Orson, saviour of avalanche victims in the treacherous Alps. The ten-year-old Border collie can be airlifted to an avalanche site and can sniff out humans trapped up to two-and-a-half metres under the snow. Orson can usually locate buried skiers in double-quick time, while it would take 20 humans 20 hours to do the same thing.

Time is truly of the essence, as humans entombed under the suffocating debris only have 15 minutes before their oxygen runs out. Like Bilbo and Saxon before him, Orson is put to the test when a member of the rescue team is trapped under the snow for the dog to find. Can he rescue him in time?

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This film features Ellias a four year old male raven living in the Konrad Lorenz Institute Austria. He is part of a pioneering project run by Dr. Thomas Bugnyar who is researching raven intelligence. Ellias is his star pupil and brings new meaning to the phrase ‘bird brain’.

Immortalised in folklore as villains, they are indeed conniving, calculating but also very very clever. Scientists now refer to them as ‘primates of the sky’ – and watching Ellias in action – we can see why.

When not showing off his singing skills, Ellias demonstrates an elaborate game of strategy to protect food. Called ‘caching’ this game of bluff and counter bluff is regularly played out by ravens and Dr. Bugnyar refers to it as ‘a cognitive arms race’.

Ellias also has some remarkable creative skills and is sophisticated problem solver. But what might come as a surprise to many is not just that ravens and other relatives in the corvid family are highly intelligent, but they also love to have fun whether rolling in the snow or demonstrating their incredible aerial acrobatics.

Brainy raven Ellias is even adding a new skill to this repertoire; he’s learning to use a computer. And through this he may help us one day crack the code to a corvid’s mind.

This lighthearted documentary series profiles remarkable animals across the globe. This week’s show focuses on some small furry animals with a range of unexpected talents. In Tanzania, scientists have trained rats to detect patients with tuberculosis and locate landmines in fields. Meanwhile, back in the UK, ferrets are using their incredible flexibility to thread cables and unblock pipes in hard-to-reach places.

If there is one creature that tops the list of people’s ‘most hated animals’, it is the much-maligned rat. These furry, whiskery rodents will never triumph in any popularity contest. The general public perceives them to be dirty, dangerous and diseased, and the oft-quoted fact that a person is never far away from a rat only serves to send shivers down the spine. One man on the street sums it up best: “I think rats and humans just don’t mix.”

Yet in Tanzania, one breed of especially large rat has been taken to heart as a cuddly household pet. Moreover, these creatures – so long blamed for spreading disease – are actually helping to save human lives. Their powerful sense of smell has won them employment at a nearby research lab, where scientists have trained them to detect TB. The idea was the brainchild of Belgian scientist Bart Weetjens, who harbours a lifetime’s love of rodents. “As a boy, I was breeding rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, all kinds of rodents,” he says. “They’re actually very nice creatures in spite of what’s being told about them.”

At the Apopo laboratory, researchers train rats to identify the smell of TB in samples of human saliva. A procedure that can take scientists up to a day can be completed by the rats in around seven minutes. This is a major advantage in treating a disease which kills half a million people a year.

The lab is also involved in a scheme to clear landmines across Africa. There are some 44 million explosives buried across the continent, and it is estimated that someone is maimed or killed by a mine every 30 seconds. The Apopo rats undergo a year of training to pick up the whiff of TNT from a mine, before being released into a field to hunt down the explosives. The lab’s star rat is Mandy, who after only eight months of training is now ready to be shipped to Mozambique, where she will become the latest rodent to put her nose to good use.

Closer to home, another furry superhero providing valuable services to humanity is the humble ferret. The National Ferret School in Derbyshire trains ferrets for all kinds of jobs, including pest control and helping to thread cables through pipes. They use their remarkable flexibility, including a bendy spine, to do what they do best – run down tunnels.

Headmaster of the ferret school James McKay admits that most people are unaware of the animal’s considerable skills. “I’ve had quite a few people who seem really surprised when you get there and you reach into your tool bag and, instead of pulling out lots of tools, you just pull out a ferret,” he says. The ferrets’ great advantage is that they can reach hard-to-find pipes and cables in a matter of seconds.

To demonstrate this talent, one of the school’s star pupils will compete in a challenge against father-and-son electricians Jonathan and Zach. Taz the ferret must thread a cable tied to his back through a winding plastic tube. The electricians must complete the same task using just their tools. Who will emerge triumphant in this battle of man versus ferret?

The lighthearted documentary series profiling remarkable animals focuses on Panzee, a chimp whose learning abilities have stunned scientists. Not only does Panzee understand more English words than any other chimp in the world, she can also communicate with her human keepers, and has even developed a basic grasp of economics.

At Georgia State University’s Language Research Center, John Kelly has looked after a group of chimpanzees for 18 years. Of the four animals that currently reside in the centre, one stands out as the star of the show. “Panzee is kind of special,” says John. “We’ve raised her like a princess.” Panzee is helping scientists with their research into animal intelligence – and has exhibited some remarkable talents. Dr Mike Beran, an expert in primate linguistics, rates the chimp’s skills very highly. “Panzee is one of the most intelligent chimpanzees that you’re going to come across,” he says.

In order to demonstrate Panzee’s understanding of spoken English, Dr Beran sets her a vocabulary test. Using a joystick and a computer screen, Panzee responds to vocal cues by selecting the onscreen image that corresponds to a particular word. The test shows that she can recognise a number of words – from food items to places, verbs to people. “We don’t know what her upper limit is,” says Beran of Panzee’s vocabulary, “but a fair and conservative estimate is about 150 words.”

Panzee’s achievements are the culmination of years of research into chimpanzees’ language capabilities, but her success comes after a great deal of trial and error. The first project, in the 1940s, saw animal researchers announce that they had taught a chimp to speak. KJ and C Hayes claimed that Vicki, who they brought up alongside their own child, could say three words. In reality, however, their experiment was a failure, and went on to prove that chimpanzees are in fact incapable of speech owing to the limitations of their voice boxes. By the 1970s, researchers looked to computers to provide the key to communicating with chimps.

At the age of two, Lana was the first chimp in an audacious project using lexigrams – symbols that represent words. It was hoped that Lana would use these symbols to order food from a vending machine, and eventually to communicate with her keepers. This experiment proved unsuccessful until a human partner was introduced into the proceedings. Once Lana could interact with a human, she began to pick up the system, leading scientists to conclude that early and close human contact is central to learning for chimpanzees.

When Panzee was born in 1985, she was immersed in human culture from an early age and has been constantly exposed to language ever since. “The early years for chimpanzees are as critical for language acquisition as they are for human children,” explains Dr Beran. Thanks to a hands-on upbringing, Panzee can also use lexigrams to correctly identify all manner of objects. Panzee’s abilities have proved that all chimps have the potential to understand human language.

However, leading primatologist Dr Katja Liebal believes that chimps have their own complex system of communication – one which humans are only now beginning to understand. Through studying the gestures, facial expressions and physical displays of the chimps at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, Dr Liebal hopes to compile the world’s first chimpanzee dictionary. “Chimps don’t need language in their environment because they have a complex communicative system based on non-verbal communication,” she explains.

Back in Georgia, researchers show that Panzee’s amazing talents go beyond basic communication. Using lexigram tokens, Panzee is able to ‘buy’ her favourite foods from the keepers, showing an understanding of value and currency – and suggesting that chimps might be able to trade amongst themselves. “Panzee has opened up a world of possibilities,” concludes Dr Beran. “She is an extraordinary animal.”

The lighthearted documentary series profiling remarkable animals focuses on Spitfire, a pigeon who uses his homing skills to help an outdoorsadventure company in the Rocky Mountains.

Wearing a special backpack, Spitfire carries photo memory cards down from the mountain and back to the shop. When climbers complete their descent, they can then pick up their own pictures – fully developed. Scientists now try to understand Spitfire’s amazing navigational abilities by equipping him with a GPS system.

The commonplace grey pigeon has a poor reputation. Many people complain that they are dirty, diseased pests who foul the urban environment with their swarms and droppings. Yet a sizeable number of pigeon fanciers and fanatics claim that the much-maligned pigeon is in fact a most remarkable bird. With proper training, racing pigeons can find their way home from a distance of hundreds of miles. They can fly at 60mph and travel distances of up to 600 miles a day. “Pigeons are not flying rats,” declares one enthusiast. “They are athletes of the sky.”

In the idyllic valleys of Colorado, one adventuresports company is putting a squadron of humble pigeons to use. Rocky Mountain Adventures employs 16 carrier pigeons to fetch and carry photo memory cards between remote river canyons and the company headquarters. Their star pigeon is a four-year-old named Spitfire, who seems to know the terrain inside out. The firm’s unusual workforce only came about because they needed to solve a tricky problem.

Their customers, including white-water rafters, liked to buy photos of their day trip before they went home. But the photos had to be sold sightunseen because there was not enough time to develop them. How could the company get the film from the mountains to the shop in time to print them? The high canyon walls and winding roads ruled out broadband signals and transport, so company boss Dave hit upon the notion of using carrier pigeons. “People thought that was a birdbrained idea,” he admits.

After months of training, the pigeons were able to navigate their way home through the valleys. They carry their load in specially designed backpacks. Dave’s brilliant idea now gives his customers what they want and produces a nice little income for the company – but the staff admit they have no idea how it works. “It’s kind of a mystery to everyone how they home,” says company photographer Simon. “I have no idea, to tell you the honest truth.”

Of course, pigeons serving as messengers is nothing new. The use of carrier pigeons dates back to ancient times, and in the 20th century they found gainful employment delivering football results and passing on vital information in wartime. But just how do they do it?

To answer this question, Spitfire is fitted with a GPS tracking device to record his route, which is then studied by bird expert Professor Tim Guildford. The results show that Spitfire in fact circles for some time to get his bearings, before flying home along roads and rivers. Contrary to what might be expected, pigeons do not seem to take the quickest route from A to B – they use landmarks to find their way. “It’s not as efficient as it could be,” the professor admits. As for how they find their way home from long distances, scientists believe they use internal compasses based on the sun or the Earth’s magnetic fields.

To put pigeon abilities to the ultimate test, one of their number is pitted against a man in a plane in a timed race. Homing pigeon ‘Fatty’ goes up against a pilot named Mike in a light aircraft. The pair must fly from the same field to an airbase 30 miles away. To make things more even, the instruments in Mike’s plane are taped over, so that both man and bird must rely on their instincts. Who will triumph?

This lighthearted documentary series profiles remarkable animals across the globe. This edition focuses on a dolphin with impressive powers of sonar that enable him to locate objects using just sound waves. Milo the dolphin is helping scientists in Belgium better understand the technique of ‘echolocation’. The film also meets two blind people who have adopted similar methods to help them navigate obstacles in everyday life.

“Milo’s a smart dolphin,” says dolphin trainer Sander. “He wants to play but he’s a thinker also. He understands what we mean and what we want from him.” Standing by the swimming pool at Boudewijn Sea Park in Bruges, Belgium, Sander watches his favourite student cavort in the air and dive through the water. Eight-year-old Milo responds to Sander’s clicks, claps and commands, and forms part of a popular dolphin show at the sea-life centre.

Milo’s skill and intelligence have also brought him to the attention of scientists, and he is the star member of a research team into dolphin behaviour. Milo has demonstrated remarkable powers of ‘echolocation’ – the ability to pinpoint objects using sonar. All dolphins are equipped with a rapid, high-frequency sonar emitter, and Milo has proven himself to be particularly adept at using it.

In the pool, Milo is set the challenge of locating a football-sized object as it is lowered into the water some 11 metres away. He swims obediently behind a metal screen, which blocks his vision. A hole in the screen then allows Milo’s sonar pulses to flood the pool. Using just his sonic clicks, Milo detects the steel ball and swims out to retrieve it.

Such a remarkable ability may seem the sole preserve of dolphins in their underwater environment, yet humans are also capable of learning echolocation. In Poole, a blind eight-yearold boy has been practising the art of sonar. Sam makes clicks in his mouth to detect objects around him. Walking down the street, the minute echoes of his clicks rebound off vans and lampposts, helping him to negotiate his path. “If I click, I can hear echoes off walls and stuff,” Sam explains. “If you can’t see, your other senses get better. Bats use it and dolphins. It really helps me.”

Young Sam has only been learning echolocation for five months, while 42-year-old Californian Dan has been using the technique for most of his life. Like Sam, Dan uses clicks to navigate obstacles and can even describe the size and texture of the object in front of him. He travels to Belgium to meet expert Dr Magnus Walberg, who is fascinated to see echolocation put to use by a human. “I’ve been studying echolocation for many years in animals, but I’ve never been able to ask the animals how they really feel about their
ability,” he says.

Dan and Milo now go head-to-head in a unique test of their echolocation abilities. Man and dolphin are set the challenge of identifying the same series of random objects using just sonar. To make things more even, Milo is given eye patches to ensure that he cannot see. In the pool, Milo quickly demonstrates his superior echolocation skills by retrieving each object in a matter of seconds. In a nearby sports hall, meanwhile, Dan finds it much harder to track down the items hanging from the ceiling – although he does show an uncanny ability to identify the texture of an object without touching it.

However, there is no doubt that Milo’s super sonar has won the day – the dolphin is capable of emitting hundreds of clicks per second, while Dan can manage only one. With his dominance no longer in doubt, Milo faces his ultimate challenge. Can he locate a tiny steel ball one centimetre wide from a distance of 11 metres using just his sonar?

This lighthearted documentary series profiles a range of remarkable animals from across the globe.

This instalment focuses on Nora, the magnificent piano-playing cat, whose talents have won her celebrity status amongst her internet audience. Taken in as a stray by cat-lover and piano teacher Betsy, initially there was little to distinguish Nora from other moggies. Indeed, with a regular stream of pupils filing through for music lessons, and five other cats already well ensconced in the house, the grey tabby had a lot of competition.

Fast-forward four years and the humble housecat had become a musical maestro. Betsy claims that Nora took to the piano immediately and seemed to have an affinity with the instrument. So impressed was Betsy with Nora’s deliberate choice of keys and natural sense of rhythm that she took video footage of her pet and posted it on YouTube. The clip was a roaring success and to date has had over nine million hits.

So what inspires Nora to play? Fans have suggested to Betsy that the cat may be a feline reincarnation of a composer. Betsy notes that Nora is especially fond of Bach’s Minuet in G. “That would be very frustrating – to have had ten fingers and then come back with two paws,” she sympathises. But Nora’s love of tinkling the ivories may carry a more scientific explanation.

In the hopes of getting inside the mind of this fascinating creature, animal behaviourist Beth Adelman analyses Nora’s home environment. She notes that because Nora sits in on Betsy’s piano lessons, she has obviously picked up her skills via associative learning. “Cats learn by watching. That’s the reason we have the word ‘copycat’ in our language,” she explains. Furthermore, mimicking the students would be a surefire way for an attention-seeking pussycat to get noticed.

But is Nora just a plain show-off? That is unlikely, according to bioacoustician Dr Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler. She says it is all about good vibrations. The pulses that pass through Nora’s sensitive whiskers and paw pads when she plays are similar to the rhythm of purring. And one of the main reasons cats purr is to send positive energy through their muscles. “Cats are actually healing themselves every single time they purr,” says Dr Von Muggenthaler. In fact, vibration therapy is used to improve bone density and muscle health in humans.

In Vienna, Professor Hermann Bubna-Littiz also studies the positive effect that music has on cats, although his theory is different again. He says that like humans, cats’ moods can be influenced bymusic – and he has even composed a song to prove it. The piece contains rhythms that replicate the cat’s resting heartbeat. When it was played to a room full of hostile or frightened cats, the professor observed that “kindly actions like grooming or licking each other or making contact with the nose increased”.

Scientific explanations aside, the burning question remains: is Nora’s music any good? To survey the music’s popular appeal, the film-makers take Nora’s show on the road. With the help of an audio engineer, a Latin dance beat is added to one of Nora’s tracks. What will London’s hipsters really make of the melody in a blind-testing?

This lighthearted documentary series profiles a range of remarkable animals from across the globe. This instalment focuses on Nellie, a particularly intelligent pig who has become something of a star owing to her remarkable abilities.

In September 1992, a pig was born on an Ohio farm that stood out from the rest of its brood. Nellie, as she was named, was energetic and inquisitive, constantly on the run, and would eagerly gravitate towards people who entered the farrowing room. At eight weeks of age, Nellie boarded a jet and was flown across to Washington State to live with her new owners – Priscilla and Steve Valentine.

Right away, it was clear that Nellie was a different sort of pig. She did not sleep as much as other pigs, and got bored easily. She was temperamental, sensitive and liked to stay clean. Nellie seemed at her happiest when she was learning or performing simple tasks – and spent much of her time looking at her owners, as if to say, “What can we do next?”

When the Valentines began to teach Nellie tricks, she caught on so quickly that it was a challenge to keep her stimulated. While spending time in her own – pink-walled – bedroom, she often played her miniature grand piano without supervision, or whiled away the time pushing a golf ball into a putting cup. Recognising Nellie’s star potential, Priscilla and Steve launched her performing career.

After Nellie’s first appearance in front of an audience, there was no going back. The pint-sized pig raced across the stage chasing footballs, leaping through hoops and playing to the audience’s enthusiastic applause.

Some years later, little has changed. The piggy prima donna still has her own suburban bedroom, but it is decorated with porcine publicity stills. The forty-pound Nellie now has personal credit cards, and even receives fan mail.

This week’s Extraordinary Animals catches up with Nellie at her Washington State home, before following her to Fort Lewis army base where she is due to perform for soldiers and their families. The film also explores the science behind Nellie’s tricks. Is it possible that Nellie knows what she is doing? Does she understand the tasks she performs? Could Nellie really be the world’s smartest pig?

Among the scientists involved in the documentary is Dr Candace Croney of Oregon State University’s Animal Sciences Department. A specialist in bioethics and animal behaviour research, Dr Croney worked with Professor Stanley Curtis on the famous ‘joy stick experiment’, which proved that pigs were capable of high levels of cognitive thought.

But porcine intelligence will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time around these social, playful animals. “Pigs have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-yearolds,” says Dr Donald Broom of Cambridge University. Dr Broom has created a ‘pig mirror test’, in which pigs are shown a mirror, before being encouraged to retrieve objects reflected in the mirror. The results of these tests suggest that pigs appreciate the difference between reality and the reflected image, thus demonstrating a high level of cognitive awareness – similar to that achieved by young children when they first become aware of themselves.

To compare the intelligence of pigs and young children in a far less scientific way, Extraordinary Animals invites three kids to try some of the tasks Nellie can perform. How will the children fare against the porcine prodigy?

The documentary series that profiles remarkable animals around the world continues with this charming study of a talented moggy.

Nora the cat has learned how to play the piano. Picking up cues from her piano-teacher owner, Betsy, Nora has demonstrated an incredible mastery of this complex instrument. Her choice of keys seems deliberate and she does not pound the piano. Like a true maestro, she strokes the keys and creates her own rhythm. Although partial to duets, Nora also enjoys playing on her own. Betsy has often woken up in the morning to the sound of her extraordinary pet tinkling the ivories.

From her humble beginnings, Nora has shown that she is rather different to other cats. Taken in as a stray, Nora immediately caused chaos in Betsy’s home, fighting with other cats and refusing to get along. But Nora has always adored her owner and, after watching Betsy and her students at work, she began to play herself.

Now animal behaviourist Beth Adelman is keen to meet Nora and understand the science behind her ability. Cats have exceptional hearing – they detect high-frequency sounds and can distinguish small differences in tone. Could these abilities be the key to Nora’s skills? The film also travels to Vienna, where a scientist has researched the effects of music on animals. As the reason for Nora’s talent gradually becomes clear, one burning question remains: is her music any good?

Returning to Five is the light-hearted documentary series that profiles a range of remarkable animals from across the globe. The first instalment focuses on Maggie, a seven-year-old Jack Russell who can count. This cunning canine can apparently solve simple mathematical challenges by tapping out the answer with her paw. But is Maggie a genuine animal genius or is she responding to subtle cues from her owner?

Sprightly Jack Russell Maggie has lived with her owner, Jesse, since she was a puppy. She can dance and she can sing, to a degree, but she has also developed a skill that could change the way people think about their four-legged friends. This canny canine can solve mathematical problems.

As soon as Jesse took Maggie home, the two struck up a unique relationship. The proud owner began training the puppy to perform all kinds of tricks and soon realised that Maggie was a very clever animal. “I knew she was special right away,” says Jesse. “She would learn pretty difficult behaviours in minutes.” At three months old, the dog would fetch Jesse a tissue whenever she sneezed, and not long after, she learned how to mimic speech by opening and closing her mouth at her mistress’s command.

However, Maggie’s most incredible skill revealed itself at the age of six months. Jesse held up her hand and Maggie used her paw to tap out the number of digits she saw. “I fell off my chair,” recalls Jesse. “It was truly bizarre.” Before long, Maggie was capable of simple addition and subtraction sums, and later of multiplication and division.

But is it really possible for an animal to solve mathematical problems? Even Jesse admits the concept is bizarre. “It really takes seeing her doing it to kind of become a believer. Even then, it’s tough,” she admits. Animal behaviourist Robert DeFranco, of the American College of Applied Science, is convinced that canines cannot count, and has travelled to Maggie’s home town in Florida to investigate. “If it’s possible that this particular Jack Russell terrier has evolved to the point that it can do math,” he says, doubtfully, “well, that would be quite interesting.”

DeFranco sets about assessing Maggie using a series of tests devised by a scientist in Edinburgh to gauge canine intelligence. These include tests in spatial awareness and ‘object persistence’, in which an object is hidden from sight. Does the dog think the object has ceased to exist just because it cannot be seen? Maggie passes these trials with flying colours, along with other tests of memory and problem-solving. Maggie has demonstrated that she is at the top end of the doggie IQ scale, but how will she fare in her biggest challenge yet – a maths competition against a class of seven-year-olds?

These children have already spent three years studying maths, yet Maggie was able to perform basic calculations at only six months. Can she really be more advanced than these kids? In the event, Maggie loses the contest in a tense tiebreak situation. Nevertheless, she has garnered a respectable score and won the admiration of the class. “That dog was awesome!” says one child.

Robert DeFranco, however, remains convinced that Maggie’s counting is a trick that relies on subtle cues from Jesse. To get to the bottom of the matter, he minimises Jesse’s control over the dog by first drowning out any audible cues with white noise, and then asking her to hide her hands under the table and shield her eyes with a pair of sunglasses. Remarkably, Maggie continues to deliver the correct answers. It is only when Jesse leaves the room that the clever little terrier goes awry. It seems possible Jesse is exercising more power over her dog than she realises; however, the final verdict on Maggie’s skills lies several thousand miles away, at the Clever Dog Lab in Vienna. What will the specialists there make of Maggie’s abilities?

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