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Animal Intelligence





[Aug. 18, 1883.]

Perhaps I should have said the "Intelligence of Animals," but my
meaning, in relation to the interesting correspondence in your columns,
is no doubt clear. The whole question seems to me to lie in the
proverbial nutshell, and to be solvable by the proverbial common sense.
Dogs' hearing is undoubtedly very keen and accurate, and even subtle;
and dogs have also the power of putting this and that together in a
marvellously shrewd and almost rational fashion. They cannot understand
sentences, but they get hold of words, i.e., sounds, and keep them
pigeon-holed in their memory. I might as well argue moral principle
from the fact that my dog Karl, like scores of other dogs, will hold a
piece of biscuit on his nose so long as I say "trust," and will when I
say "paid for" gaily toss his head and catch the biscuit in his honest
mouth, as argue that because he finds eleven tennis-balls among the
shrubs in five minutes, when I say, "We can't find them at all, Karl; do
go and find them, good dog, will you? Find the balls, old
fellow"--therefore he understands my sentence. He simply grasps the
words "find" and "balls," sees the game at a standstill, and reasons out
our needs and his responsibilities, quickened by the expectation of
pattings on the head, pettings, and pieces of biscuit. It is remarkable
that if I try to delude him by uttering "base coin" in the shape of
words just like the real words, as, for example, if I say "Jacob"
instead of "paid for," he makes no mistake, but refuses the morsel,
however delicate, till it is "paid for."

Prominent nouns, participles, verbs, &c., make up the lingua franca
that so beautifully links together men and dogs, and now and then men
and horses, their intelligence being quickened by their dumbness, as is
that of deaf and dumb men and women, whose other faculties become so
keenly intensified, and who put this and that together so much more
quickly than do we who have all our faculties. There are of course
"Admiral Crichtons" among dogs, as there are among men, but the
difference between dog and dog will generally, I think, be traceable
more to human training than to born capacity. The yearning look which
Karl gives when (told to "speak") he gives forth his voice in response,
is sometimes piteously like "Oh, that I could really tell all I feel!"
He is like, and all dogs of average intelligence are like, the Frenchman
I met yesterday on the beach at Hastings, who wanted to know whether he
could reach Ramsgate on foot before nightfall, and how far it was, and
who, as I only know a few French words, and am utterly unable to speak
or understand sentences, was obliged to make me understand his wants by
a few nouns such as everybody knows, and by causing me to put this and
that together. There is of course the vital defect in the parallel that
I could learn to understand French, and the dog could never learn to
understand sentences; but as so many parallels have vital defects of
some kind, even down to that historic self-drawn parallel between
Alexander and the robber, we may well say, whether we be men or dogs,
"Let me reflect." Dogs do undoubtedly reflect, and reason, and remember;
and they never forget their "grammar," as school-boys do. Instinct, like
chance, is only a name expressing fitly enough our own ignorance. Did
not Luther and Wesley believe in the resurrection of animals?

S. B. JAMES.


[Aug. 25, 1883.]

A little illustration of canine intelligence shown by my collie, Dido,
may be added to those which have lately appeared in the Spectator. The
dog was lying on the floor in a room in which I was preparing to go out.
An old servant was present, and when I had given her directions about
an errand on which she was going, I said, "You will take Dido with you?"
She assented, and the dog directly got up to follow her downstairs. I
then remembered that I should want a cab, so I asked the servant to send
one, and not to leave the house till I rang the bell. On her leaving the
room, Dido resumed her quiet attitude on the floor, with her nose to the
carpet. In rather less than ten minutes I rang the bell, and the dog at
once sprang up and ran downstairs to join her companion. I had not
spoken a word after asking the servant to wait for the bell. Was this
word-reading, or voice-reading, or thought-reading.

S. E. DE MORGAN.





Next: Animals And Language

Previous: How Our Meaning Is Conveyed To Animals



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