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An Explanation

[Feb. 9, 1895.]

I think I can explain the puzzle of the Scotch terrier and his interment
of the frogs, for the satisfaction of your correspondent. A friend of
mine had once a retriever who was stung by a bee, and ever afterwards,
when the dog found a bee near the ground, she stamped on it, and then
scraped earth over it and buried it effectually--presumably to put an
end to the danger of further stings. In like manner, another dog having
bitten a toad, showed every sign of having found the mouthful to the
last degree unpleasant. Probably Mr. Acland-Troyte's dog had, in the
same way, bitten a toad, and conceived henceforth that he rendered
public service by putting every toad-like creature he saw carefully and
gingerly "out of harm's way," underground.

A great number of the buryings and other odd tricks of dogs must,
however, I am sure, be considered as Atavism, and traced to the
instincts bequeathed by their remote progenitors when yet "wild in the
woods the noble beastie ran." Such, I believe, is generally admitted
to be the explanation of the universal habit of every dog before lying
down to turn round two or three times and scratch its intending
bed--even when that bed is of the softest woollen or silk--apparently to
ascertain that no snakes or thorns lurk in its sleeping-place.

A dog which I once possessed exhibited such reversion to ancestral
habits in a noteworthy way. She was a beautiful white Pomeranian; and
when a litter of puppies was impending, on one occasion she scratched an
enormous hole in our back-garden in South Kensington, where her leisure
hours were passed--a hole like the burrow of a fox. It was not in the
least of the character of the ordinary circular punch-bowl so often
scooped out by idle or impatient dogs, but a long, deep channel running
at a sharp angle a considerable way underground. Obviously, it was
Yama's conviction that it was her maternal duty to provide shelter for
her expected offspring, precisely as a fox or rabbit must feel it, and
as we may suppose her own ancestresses did on the shores of the Baltic
some thousand generations ago. When the puppies were born, Yama and the
survivor were established by me in a most comfortable kennel in the same
garden, with a day nursery and a night nursery (covered and open) for
the comfort and safety of the puppy. But one fine morning, when the
little creature had begun to crawl over the inclosure of its small
domain, I happened to go into the garden while Yama was absent in the
house, and discovered that my little friend was missing. The puppy had
disappeared altogether; and at the same time I noticed that the
flower-bed in which Yama had made her excavation had been nicely
smoothed over by the gardener, who was putting the place in order. A
suspicion instantly seized me, and I exclaimed, "You have buried my
puppy!" I ran to the spot where the hole had been made, and, having
swept aside the gardener's spadeful of soil, found the deeper part of
the hole, running slanting underground, still open. I knelt down and
thrust in my arm to its fullest stretch, and then, at the very end of
the hole, my fingers encountered a little soft, warm, fluffy ball. The
puppy came out quite happy and uninjured, freshly awakened from sleep,
having shown that his instinct recognised the suitability of holes in
the ground for the accommodation of puppies; just as the hereditary
instinct of his mother had led her to prepare one for him, even in a
South Kensington garden!


Next: A Dog And His Dinner

Previous: The Dog That Buried The Frogs

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