Montana dog becomes local celebrity for his 'math skills'

A dog with math skills seems incredible, the local fire chief says he vouches for the dog's talents.

Reuters August 24, 2011

SALMON: Labrador Retrievers are known for their hunting skills and friendly dispositions, but Beau, a black Lab who lives in Montana, is winning acclaim for his math abilities.

Owner David Madsen says if he tells Beau there are six dogs at the park and three dogs leave, and then asks him how many are left, the dog replies: "Woof, woof, woof."

Beau has achieved a degree of celebrity for his counting skills, becoming a star on visits to shops, restaurants and cabins in the Flathead Lake resort in Montana where the Madsen family spends summers.

"He counts, he adds and subtracts, he can do some division and has memorized square roots," Madsen said.

Although a dog with math skills better than plenty of humans seems incredible, the local fire chief says he vouches for the dog's talents.

"Dave will say, 'What's two and three?' Then the dog will go, 'Bark, bark ... bark, bark, bark,'" said Chris Ricciardi, chief of the Finley Point-Yellow Bay, Montana Fire Department.

He said the dog performs impromptu demonstrations at his family's restaurant, Ricciardi's, near Flathead Lake.

"This dog is amazing," the fire chief said.

Madsen, a retired AT&T executive, adopted the puppy a dozen years ago and began teaching him math basics when he showed signs of being intelligent. As a puppy, Beau invented games and crafted intricate strategies to avoid capture, he said.

"I've had dogs all my life, but this dog is different. He's super smart," Madsen said.

He taught Beau to count using dog biscuits, laying out a handful and rewarding the dog when the number of his barks corresponded to the number of treats.

"He caught on that rewards were associated with the correct number of barks," Madsen said.

The dog had a chance at nationwide fame when he auditioned in Savannah, Georgia for the "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment on the CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman."

Beau didn't make the cut, but a local station showed clips of his performance and he became the talk of the town.

Madsen, who says his canine calculator is accurate about 85 percent of the time, said he was not signaling the dog in any fashion and has allowed others to quiz Beau in his absence.

Brandon Bretz, manager of Bretz RV and Marine in Missoula, Montana, said he recently watched Beau in action.

"A group of us were standing there and Dave asked Beau, 'How many girls are here?' There were two and Beau barked twice," Bretz said. "Next, Dave asked, 'How many boys?' Beau barked five times even though there were only four guys.

"Then it dawned on us. Beau is a boy, and he was counting himself," he said, adding that he has booked Beau as guest speaker next spring for his company's annual customer appreciation barbecue.

"There's no trick to Beau's tricks. That dog is on the up and up," Bretz said.