Not infrequently the tail of a young setter when it sets game may be seen trembling and vibrating as if it had a disposition to wag, which was kept in check by the supreme importance of not disturbing the hare or covey. The tail also is held out in full view like a flag, whereas a rat-catcher's dog on the watch at a hole will often droop its tail.
I think that there can be no doubt that the pointer and setter, in acting in their characteristic manner, are following an old instinct connected with an important piece of co-operative pack strategy, although the peculiarity has been enhanced by human training and selection, and the sportsmen with their guns have supplanted, and therefore act the part of, the dog's natural comrades in the chase.
The writer, during his boyhood, had charge of a small pack of beagles at a South Down homestead, several of which were allowed to run loose at night as a guard against the foxes. Among these was an old dog, a part bred Skye terrier, very sagacious, and well known in all the country round as a sure finder when the pack were used to drive rabbits in the gorse.
Old Rattler (what a throng of memories the name calls up!) was the recognized leader of the others, and not infrequently he would conduct them on a private hunting expedition, in which he served as sole huntsman and whip. Often on a still night his sharp yapping bark, accompanied by the clearer, long-drawn music of the beagles, might be heard among the hills, as they drove a predatory fox from the farm-buildings, or strove to run down one of the tough South Down hares. It soon became evident that this pack had a certain regular system of co-operation, and, like the African wild dogs, well described by Dr. S. T. Pruen, in his recent book, The Arab and the African, they made a practice of playing into one another's hands, or rather, mouths. Old Rattler would generally trot on ahead, surveying every likely tuft of grass or ling, and exhibiting that inquisitiveness and passion for original research so characteristic of the terrier. On arriving at a small outlying patch of furze he would invariably proceed to the leeward side, so that as the wind drew through the covert it would convey a hint of whatever might be there concealed.
He would give several critical sniffs, with head raised and lowered alternately, and then would either trot indifferently away, or else stand rigid with quickly vibrating tail and nose pointing toward the bush. The other dogs seemed to understand instantly what was required of them, and they would quickly surround the covert. When they were all in their place, and not until then, the cunning old schemer would plunge with a bound into the furze, and out would dash a hare or rabbit, often into the very jaws of one of the beagles.