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How Our Meaning Is Conveyed To Animals

[Aug. 11, 1883.]

The following anecdote may interest some of your readers:--Some years
ago, when starting for a foreign tour, I entrusted my little Scotch
terrier, Pixie, to the care of my brother, who lived about three miles
distant from my house. I was away for six weeks, during the whole of
which time Pixie remained contentedly at his new abode. The day,
however, before I returned, my brother mentioned in the dog's hearing
that I was expected back the next day. Thereupon, the dog started off,
and was found by me at my bedroom door the next morning, he having been
seen waiting outside the house early in the morning when the servants
got up, and been admitted by them. Pixie is still alive and flourishing,
and readily lends himself to experiments, which, however, yield no very
definite result. He certainly seems to understand as much of our meaning
as it concerns his own comfort to understand, but how he does it I
cannot quite determine. I should be sorry to affirm, clever as he is,
that he understands French and German, yet it is certainly a fact that
he will fall back just as readily if I say "Zurueck!" as if I say "To
heel!" and advance to the sound "En avant!" as well as to "Hold up!" As
in both cases I am careful to avoid any elucidatory gesture or special
tone of voice, I am inclined to think that there must be here a species
of direct thought transference. At the same time, I am bound to add that
without the spoken word I am unable to convey the slightest meaning to
him. This, however, may be due to what I believe to be a fact, that it
is almost impossible without word or gesture to formulate the will with
any distinctness. If this theory be correct, the verbal sounds used
would convey the speaker's meaning, not in virtue of the precise sounds
themselves, but of the intention put into them by the speaker. I should
be glad to know if the experience of others tends to confirm this
theory, which I do not remember to have seen suggested before.


[Aug. 18, 1883.]

I beg to contribute another anecdote on the subject of how our meaning
is conveyed to animals. When I was in Norway with my husband, a dog
belonging to the people of the house went with us in all our walks. One
day a strange dog joined us, and seemed to wish to get up a fight with
our dog, Fechter, who for protection kept almost under our feet; my
husband said several times, "Go on, Fechter," in English, which he
immediately did, but soon came back again. At last we succeeded in
driving the strange dog away, but he soon returned. Then my husband said
without any alteration of tone or gesture that I was aware of, "Drive
that dog away, Fechter." He immediately rushed at him, and we saw no
more of our troubler. I have long thought that dogs do understand, not
"the precise sounds themselves, but the intention put into them by the

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