Features In The Character Of A Dog
[June 10, 1876.]
For some time past I have noticed in your journal letters and articles
referring to the wonderful powers of dogs. As I was myself much struck
by many features in the character of a dog which I knew, illustrating,
as I think, not only affection, but reasoning faculties, I shall
acquaint you with a few of these, believing that they may be
interesting, at least to all admirers of that noble animal.
The dog of which I speak was a terrier. It showed its affection in the
most marked manner in several ways. Every morning, as soon as it got out
of the kitchen, it came to its master's door, and if not admitted and
caressed about the usual hour, gave evident signs of impatience. It
would lie quiet till it thought the time had arrived, but never longer.
Afterwards it went to the breakfast-room, and occupied its master's
chair till he arrived. On one occasion a visitor was in the house, who,
coming first into the room, ordered the dog to come off the best chair.
To this it paid no attention, and when threatened with expulsion, at
once prepared for defence. But as soon as its master appeared it
resigned its place voluntarily, and quietly stretched itself on the rug
at his feet.
At another time it was left for three weeks during its master's absence
from home. It saw him leave in a steamer, and every day until his return
it repaired to the quay upon the arrival of the same boat, expecting him
to come again in the one by which he had gone. It distinguished between
a number of boats, always selecting the right one and the right hour.
One evening it accompanied its master when he went to gather mussels for
bait. As the tide was far in, few mussels remained uncovered; and after
collecting all within reach, more were required. A large bunch lay a few
feet from the water's edge, but beyond reach; yet as the dog was not one
of those who take the water to fetch, its master had no expectation that
it would prove useful on the present occasion. Seeing him looking at
the mussels, however, it first took a good look at those in the basket,
and then, without being directed at all, went into the water. Selecting
the right bunch from amongst the stones and wreck with which it was
surrounded, it brought it to land, and laid it at its master's feet.
This, I think, is a proof of reason, rather than of instinct. The dog
had never been trained to go into the sea, and would not probably have
brought out the mussels had it not seen that they were wanted.
It showed wonderful instinct, however, just before the death of one of
its pups, and before its own death. Its pup had not been thriving, and
the mother gave unmistakable proof that she foresaw its death. She dug a
grave for it and put it in. Nor, when it was removed, would she let it
lie beside her, but immediately dug another grave, where she was less
likely to be disturbed. Upon the day of her own death, also, she used
what strength she had to dig her grave, in which she lay, preferring to
die in it, than in what would seem to most a place of greater
These may not be singular incidents, but they are still remarkable and
worthy of notice. They serve to show us the wonderful nature of man's
faithful friend, the dog, and how he has many traits of character fitted
to make him the worthy receiver of kindness and respect.
[Footnote 1: It is difficult to accept T.'s explanation of the dog's
object in digging. Possibly its aim was to obtain warmth or shelter.]
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