Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/December 1876/Canine Sagacity


A CORRESPONDENT hands us the following anecdotes illustrative of the remarkable reasoning powers of dogs: The first case is one which occurred at a fashionable watering-place on the east coast of Ireland, some twenty years ago, and exhibits the remarkable sagacity displayed by a dog in carrying out the dictates of the animal passion for revenge. The jetty which stretched along the small harbor was at that time used as a promenade by the élite among the sojourners on the coast, where, after the heat of the long summer days, they regaled themselves with the fresh evening breezes wafted in from the sea. Among the frequenters of this fashionable resort was a gentleman of some position, who was the owner of a fine Newfoundland dog, which inherited the time-honored possessions of that noble breed—very great power and facility in swimming; and, at the period of the evening when the jetty was most crowded with promenaders, his master delighted to put this animal through a series of aquatic performances for the entertainment of the assembled spectators. Amusement being at a premium on the coast, these nightly performances grew into something like an "institution," and the brave "Captain"—for such was his name—speedily became a universal favorite on the jetty. It happened, however, that among the new arrivals on the coast there came a certain major in her majesty's army, accompanied by two bull-dogs of unusual size and strength, and of great value; but, value in a bull-dog being inversely proportionate to its beauty, the appearance of the major and his dogs excited no very enthusiastic pleasure among the aesthetic strollers on the jetty. On the first night on which the major presented himself, nothing unusual occurred; and Captain dived and swam as before. But on the second evening the brave old favorite was walking quietly behind his master down the jetty, when, as they were passing by the major and his dogs, one of these ugly brutes flew at Captain, and caught him by the neck in such a way as to render his great size utterly useless for his defense. A violent struggle ensued, but the bull-dog came off the victor, for he stuck to his foe like a leech, and could only be forced to release his hold by the insertion of a bar of iron between his teeth. The indignation of the by-standers against the major was, of course, very great; and its fervor was not a little increased when they saw the poor Captain wending his way homeward, bleeding, and bearing all the marks of defeat. Some two or three evenings after this occurrence, when Captain again made his appearance on the jetty, he looked quite crestfallen, bore his tail between his legs, and stuck closely to the heels of his master. That evening passed away quietly, and the next, and the next, and so on for about a week—Captain still bearing the aspect of mourning. But one evening about eight or ten days after the above encounter, as the major was inarching in his usual pompous manner along the jetty, accompanied by his dogs, something attracted his attention in the water, and, walking to the very edge of the jetty, he stood for a moment looking down into the sea. Scarcely had the two bull-dogs taken up their stand beside their master when Captain, seizing the opportunity for which he had so long looked, rushed at his former conqueror, and, catching him by the back of the neck, jumped off the jetty, with his foe in his mouth, down some twenty feet or more into the sea. Once in the water, the power of his enemy was crippled, while Captain was altogether in his own element; and, easily overcoming all efforts at resistance, he succeeded in resolutely keeping the bull-dog's head under water. The excitement on the shore was, of course, intense. The major shouted, and called out: "My dog! my beautiful dog! Will no one save him?" But no one seemed at all inclined to interfere, or to risk his life for the ugly dog. At length the major called out: "I'll give fifty pounds to any one who will save my dog;" and soon afterward a boat which lay at some little distance pulled up to the rescue. Even then, however, it was only by striking Captain on the head with the oars that he could be forced to release his victim, which was taken into the boat quite senseless from exhaustion and suffocation, and was with difficulty brought to itself again. Captain, on the other hand, swam in triumph to the shore, amid the plaudits of the spectators, who shared, in sympathy at least, his well-earned honors of revenge.

More remarkable than the sagacity in carrying out the desire for revenge, displayed by the Newfoundland dog in the above case, is that which the following narrative illustrates: A gentleman of wealth and position in London had, some years ago, a country-house and farm about sixty miles from the metropolis. At this country residence he kept a number of dogs, and among them a very large mastiff and a Scotch terrier; and, at the close of one of his summer residences in the country, he resolved to bring this terrier with him to London for the winter season. There being no railway to that particular part of the country, the dog traveled with the servants in a post-carriage, and on his arrival at the town-house was brought out to the stable, where a large Newfoundland dog was kept as a watch-dog. This latter individual looked with anything but pleasure on the arrival of the little intruder from the country; and consequently the Scotch terrier had not been very long in his new home when this canine master of the stable attacked him, and, in the language of human beings, gave him a sound thrashing. The little animal could, of course, never hope by himself to chastise his host for this inhospitable welcome, but he determined that by some agency chastisement should come. Accordingly, he lay very quiet that night in a remote corner of the stable, but when morning had fully shone forth he was nowhere to be found. Search was made for him, as the phrase says, high and low, but without success; and the conclusion reluctantly arrived at was, that he had been stolen. On the third morning after his disappearance, however, he again showed himself in London, but this time not alone; for, to the amazement of every one, he entered the stable attended by the big mastiff from Kent. This great brute had no sooner arrived than he flew at the Newfoundland dog, who had so badly treated his little terrier friend, and a severe contest ensued, which the little terrier himself, seated at a short distance, viewed with the utmost dignity and satisfaction. The result of the battle was, that the mastiff came off the conqueror, and gave his opponent a tremendous beating. When he had quite satisfied himself as to the result, this great avenger from Kent scarcely waited to receive the recognition of his master, who had been sent for immediately on the dog's arrival, but at once marched out of the stable, to the door of which the little terrier accompanied him, and was seen no more. Some few days afterward, however, the gentleman received a letter from his steward in the country, informing him of the sudden appearance of the terrier there, and his as sudden disappearance along with the large mastiff; and stating that the latter had remained away three or four days, during which they had searched in vain for him, but had just then returned home again. It then, of course, became quite clear that the little dog, finding himself unable to punish the town bully, had thought of his "big brother" in the country, had traveled over the sixty miles which separated them, in order to gain his assistance, and had recounted to him his grievance; it was plain also that the mastiff had consented to come and avenge his old friend, had traveled with him to London, and, having fulfilled his promise, had returned home, leaving the little fellow free from annoyance in the future.

The following well-known story is a strong example of the great intelligence which may be developed in a dog by careful training: A fashionably-dressed English gentleman was one day crossing one of the bridges over the Seine at Paris, when he felt something knock against his legs, and, looking down, he found that a small poodle-dog had rubbed against him, and covered his boots with mud. He was, of course, much annoyed, and execrated the little brute pretty freely; but when he got to the other side of the bridge, he had the boots cleaned at a stand for the purpose, and thought no more about the matter. Some days after this occurrence, however, he had occasion again to cross that bridge, and the same little incident occurred. Thinking this somewhat odd, he resolved to watch where the little dog went to; and, leaning against the side of the bridge, he followed with his eye the movements of his dirty little friend. He saw him rub against the feet of one gentleman after another, till he had exhausted all the mud off his once white skin, then rush off down the bank of the river, and there roll himself in the mud collected at the side. Having thus got a new supply of dirt, the little animal ran up to the bridge again, and proceeded to transfer it to the boots of the passers-by, as before. Having watched his movements for some time, the gentleman noticed that on one occasion, instead of running down to the river, he went off to the proprietor of the stand for cleaning boots, at the other end of the bridge, who received him very cordially. The truth then for the first time dawned on him, that the little animal belonged to the man who cleaned the boots, and was trained by him to perform these mischievous deeds, for the purpose of bringing in custom. Being very fond of clogs, the Englishman resolved to purchase this clever little fellow, and bring him back to England with him. When, however, he went to the dog's master, that person at first denied any connection with him, and only admitted the ownership when he was perfectly satisfied that his interrogator had no connection with the police. For some time also he refused to part with the little poodle, saying that no money could pay him for the loss of his dog, who really made his living for him. Tempted, however, by a very high price, he at last consented to sell the dog; and the gentleman, a few days afterward, brought him over to England, traveling via Boulogne to Folkstone. His residence in England was some thirty or forty miles from Folkstone, and to this place he brought his little purchase. He had not been many days in his new home, however, when the little French poodle suddenly disappeared. Search was made for him everywhere, but to no effect. His new master offered a reward for him, but with the same result; and he had at last made up his mind that the little fellow had been either poisoned or stolen, when one morning, about six weeks after his mysterious disappearance, the gentleman received a letter from a friend in Paris telling him that his dog was back again there, and at his old trade of soiling boots in the interest of his former master. The little fellow, not liking the dullness of a country life, had resolved to return to his former home, and had made his way to Folkstone; there, as the gentleman afterward ascertained, he had got on board a steamer going to Boulogne, and from Boulogne had found his way back to Paris.

Of the foregoing three stories, the first two are probably even more remarkable than the last. The last (except as to the dog's finding its way back to Paris) illustrates only the possibility of developing in a dog, by the training of its natural intelligence, an almost human ingenuity. But it is by instilling into the dog the intelligence of a higher being that this skill is engendered. The spring of the intelligence is in the trainer, and it is to attain an object which the higher being, and not the lower, has in view. But in the first two cases the whole process is the dog's; the object to be secured, namely, revenge, is what the dog himself seeks, and the means by which that object is to be attained are devised and carried out by the instinct of the dog. That a dog should harbor revenge is, of course, not a very wonderful fact; but there is a calm reflection and a cool calculation displayed in the first two cases above given, which make them somewhat peculiar. If what we call instinct in these animals embraces powers so very like reason; if they are swayed by the same passions and affections which move us, and they are able to communicate to their fellows the feelings which stir them, and the external circumstances which bring those feelings into play, the border-line between man's mental territory and theirs becomes a little bit indefinite.—Chambers's Journal.