Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/532

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
518
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of this faculty, although not possessing articulate speech? The other evening, while I was giving my plants a drink, he came to me several times, asking to have the gate opened. Not caring to lay down the hose, I paid little heed to his teasings, and he determined to compass his purpose in another way. To the front door he went, and, pressing it, found it not latched, but requiring some force to throw it open. Then he backed out the full width of the veranda, and running, threw his weight so violently against the door as to drive it open. Very soon he reappeared with his mistress, to whom he had made his supplication, and she, without knowing of his failure with me, opened the gate and gave the little fellow his coveted freedom.

It should be explained, in regard to the wit shown in opening a heavy or sticking door, that Toots acquired his experience with a fly door closed by the reaction of a spring. He found by experiments that if with his fore paws he pressed this door open just far enough to emit his body, it would spring to and pinch his tail; and that by retreating and running the whole length of a small entry he could impart momentum enough to open the door wide and thus clear his tail, at the same time letting out a dependent companion. This act, I am inclined to think, is a little smarter than is usual in a two-year-old child.

The skill thus acquired is regularly applied by Toots in opening the door of the kitchen, in which his bed is made, when he proceeds with the first morning sunbeam to visit his friends in the sleeping apartments of the house. The door is closed but is not latched, to enable the dog to open it without help. Even in this condition it is moved with difficulty, owing to its friction on the sill—a difficulty intentionally allowed to remain for the purposes of my experiments.

The first effort of Toots is to press upon the door, to find whether it is fastened. As will be seen, he has come to apply this test as the result of his own experience. If the door is unlatched, he goes to the opposite side of the room and runs, throwing himself against the panels with the whole weight of his body. This act he repeats five times, after each impact retreating to the opposite side of the room to get a fresh start. With the sixth attack the passage is forced, and he scampers away with his companion, a dog with no wit at all, and is happy. More recently he has found that he can decide whether the door is fastened or not by quietly pressing his fore paws against it. Before he had adopted this test, on one night I fastened the door. He pounded it with his running catapult precisely six times; then gave up and cried for help, which was ready at hand. Such repetition of an adaptive act requires no analysis to make its psychological value apparent.