Beau the Labrador retriever is a canine calculator

2011-07-31T19:45:00Z 2014-05-30T19:07:40Z Beau the Labrador retriever is a canine calculatorBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian missoulian.com
July 31, 2011 7:45 pm  • 

FINLEY POINT - Quick: What's the square root of 64 minus the square root of 16 plus 2?

Don't worry about whether you're smarter than a fifth-grader. If it takes you longer to figure it out than it does to bark six times, we know a DOG that may be smarter than you.

That's right, a dog.

Meet Beau, a 12-year-old black Labrador retriever and part-time mathematician.

Beau can do it all: Sit. Roll over. Add. Subtract. Multiply. Divide.

We swear we're not making this up. He can even do algebra.

"If 3X equals 9, what does X equal?" Dave Madsen asks Beau.

"Arf arf arf," Beau replies.

Nine minus five? "Arf arf arf arf," Beau says.

Four times two? "Arf arf arf arf arf arf arf arf," Beau answers.

It goes beyond math.

Beau knows football.

"How many points for a touchdown?" Madsen asks the dog.

Beau barks six times. And twice, for a safety. Three times for a field goal.

"If I score a safety and a field goal, how many points do I have?" Madsen asks.

Beau barks five times.

The obvious answer to Beau's math skills, of course, is that Madsen is signaling his dog, either how many times to bark, or when to quit barking.

Except Madsen can move out of the dog's vision - can even leave the room entirely - and Beau will answer most any mathematical question you yourself put to him.

***

You always know when Beau is done answering, because his ears shoot into an upright and locked position after the last bark.

"My Dad had a buddy in Atlanta who was determined to prove we were signaling him somehow," says Matt Madsen of Missoula. "He took Beau out on the back deck by himself and drilled him one-on-one for 30 minutes, and when they came back in, all the guy said was, ‘You know what? That dog's a genius.' "

"We do try to keep the answers at 10 or below," Dave Madsen says, "because otherwise, it's a lot of barking."

But there are lots of questions Beau can answer.

Like, how old he is (12 barks). How many cars are in the driveway (four barks).

With four men and two women present recently, Dave Madsen asked Beau how many women were there.

He barked twice.

"And how many men?" Madsen asked.

"Arf arf arf arf arf," Beau replied - it's always once more than you expect, because Beau counts himself when he counts the males.

"If there are six dogs at the park and four leave, how many are left?" Madsen asks Beau.

"Arf arf," Beau answers.

"And two come back?"

"Arf arf arf arf."

Just when you start to believe, Madsen will ask Beau to do something pretty complicated, like figure out square roots of two numbers and add or subtract others - and before you can figure out the answer in your own head, Beau has correctly barked his.

OK, so how does Beau know math?

"Here's Beau's story," Dave Madsen says.

Dave and Patti Madsen's daughter, Melissa, was a student at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., when she and her roommates found a little puppy, maybe 3 months old, on their doorstep.

They took him in. Gave him water. Fed him. Fell in love with him. And put up posters all over advertising a found dog.

Well, after two weeks had gone by without a word from anyone, Melissa was pretty sure the puppy was hers to keep.

"Then the owner called," Dave says.

It turned out to be another student, whose parents had given him Beau for his birthday. The boy was keeping Beau in a cage behind his fraternity house, and Beau kept escaping.

But he wanted the dog back.

"Melissa was so upset she wouldn't stop crying," Matt Madsen says. "Her boyfriend at the time got so tired of listening to her cry he finally went and offered the guy a couple hundred bucks for the puppy."

The boy, sensing a bigger payday, held out for more than twice that.

Brad Canady - now Melissa's husband - forked over the dough and took Beau back to his girlfriend.

"Brad always says, ‘And you know what happened?' " Matt says.

" ‘She started crying

again.' "

Well, Melissa and her roommate lived in a no-pets rental at the time, so Dave and Patti took him in initially.

***

"I noticed him doing things I've never seen dogs do," Dave says. "He'd nudge me to get up, then counteract every move I made. I thought, ‘He's pretty smart. I think I'll see if I can teach him math.' "

Dave began by laying out a single dog bone and teaching Beau to bark once.

Then he'd put out two and teach him to bark twice.

Take away one, and teach him to bark once again. Add more. Take some away.

"Arf arf arf arf arf," Beau would say as he carefully studied the dog bones being placed in front of him, and watch them being taken away.

As time went on, Beau learned to count to 10. Eventually, he learned to answer questions without the dog bones in front of him.

From there, the math has just gotten both tougher, and sillier.

In addition to football, Matt has taught Beau golf. "If I'm playing a par-5 and get a double bogey, what's my score?" Dave asks Beau.

The dog barks seven times.

"What if it's a par-3 and I get a birdie?"

Beau barks three times.

"He's not perfect," Dave admits before turning back to Beau. "No, Beau, listen: a par-3 and I get a birdie?"

Beau barks twice.

He gets a treat every time he answers questions correctly, which Dave estimates is 85 percent of the time.

"If I don't have treats, he gets tired of it after two or three questions," Dave says. "He doesn't work for free."

***

With treats in hand, Beau will seemingly do math indefinitely.

"Dad, ask him this," Matt says, and Dave complies.

"Beau: cinco menos dos," Dave says.

"Arf arf arf," Beau answers, successfully translating the Spanish into five minus two.

Yes they've taught Beau to answer math questions posed in a foreign language.

"Watch this," Matt says. On a large notepad, he writes "4-1" and holds it in front of Beau's eyes.

Beau barks three times.

With one stroke, Matt turns the minus sign into a plus and holds it back in front of Beau.

He barks five times.

They've even taught him to read.

"Beau has always paid very close attention to conversations," Patti says. "When Dave and I talk, you can see him staring intently at whoever is talking."

Like many dogs, he gets very excited when he hears the word "walk," which Beau assumes means he's going on one.

"Now, we can't even spell it, he still knows what it means," she says. "When I told him he was going to put on a show today, he sat in front of the door and waited for you guys."

While caring for Beau until Melissa could take him in, Dave and Patti fell in love with the then-young Lab.

Even, Patti says, after he chewed up countless pairs of her shoes, and the back of her new couch, during his chewing stage.

Those transgressions just gave her a stronger argument for sharing joint custody of Beau, and so the Madsens have the dog for several months when they're at their Flathead Lake home, and Melissa and Brad have him most of the time when everyone's back home in Georgia where Dave, who grew up in Missoula, is retired from a career with AT&T.

***

Beau loves Flathead Lake - to the point, Dave says, that the dog actually goes into a deep depression when he returns to Georgia each fall, moping around and refusing to eat. When he's not doing math during the summer, Beau likes to boat on Flathead or take a wave-runner ride with Dave.

He'll also fish for hours, standing in the water waiting for a perch to swim by that he can try to pounce on, or laying with his head hanging over the dock, and diving in when he spies one.

However, the only time he's ever actually caught a fish was when the Madsens were visiting the home of a friend, and Beau dove into the friend's koi pond and came up, tail wagging, with one of the residents in his mouth, much to his owners' chagrin.

The math is pretty funny, but the Madsens and Canadys love Beau for more than his ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Dave's aunt, Fern Madsen, summers in the cabin next door to their place, and tells this story.

"David made a nice fire outside one night, and I went over for some wine," Fern says.

Her late husband, Sherman, had macular degeneration and didn't like walking outside after dark, so he sat down in a chair in the corner of the porch while Fern headed next door.

"He was blind," Fern says. "So he stayed here. I was over there just a while when we noticed Beau had gone missing. David called him, but he never came back."

An hour went by, then two.

No Beau.

"After several glasses of wine it was time for me to go home," Fern says, "and when I got back, there was Beau, laying against my husband's feet on the porch. I really think he knew Sherman couldn't see, and he baby-sat Dad all that time."

Beau is a popular guest at Ricciardi's, a restaurant near the Finley Point turnoff, and the Sitting Duck in Woods Bay, where the Madsens are always welcome to bring their four-legged friend to perform a math trick or three in front of the other customers.

At the CBS-TV affiliate in Augusta, Ga., a few years ago, Beau gained an audition for "The Late Show With David Letterman," which occasionally features a segment called "Stupid Pet Tricks," but didn't quite make it to New York City.

"The producers were impressed," Dave says, "but they wanted more action in the tricks - circus-type stuff, I guess."

After years of teaching Beau math, the Madsens admit these days they don't often put the dog through his paces unless there's an audience that wants to see it.

But Beau still gets plenty of homework.

"When I let him out in the morning Beau makes his rounds through the neighborhood," Dave says. "There are people up and down the lake here who can testify that Beau does math without me around. I can hear him barking as he goes from house to house and they question him. One neighbor is a math teacher in California and she quizzes him daily when she's here."

It is possible to trip up this canine mathematical genius, however, and Patti knows how to do it.

Ask him a question where the answer is nothing - say, four minus four - and Beau just starts barking.

Dave Madsen apparently never covered the concept of zero when he taught his dog math.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

 

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