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Teaching Dogs A Method Of Communication
How Our Meaning Is Conveyed To Animals
[May 26, 1877.]
Some time ago I sent you my recollections of a dog who knew a halfpenny
from a penny, and who could count up as far as two (see page 56). I have
been able to obtain authentic information of a dog whose mental powers
were still more advanced, and who, in his day, besides being celebrated
for his abilities, was of substantial benefit to a charitable
institution in his town. The dog I refer to was a little white
fox-terrier, Prin by name, who lived at the Lion Hotel, at
Kidderminster, for three or four years; but now, alas! he is dead, and
nothing remains of him but his head in a glass case.
I had heard of this dog some months ago, but on Saturday last, having to
make a visit to Kidderminster, I went to see him. The facts I give about
him are based on the statements of Mr. Lloyd, his master, and they are
fully substantiated by the evidence of many others. I have before me a
statement of the proceeds of "Dog Prin's box, Lion Hotel; subscriptions
to the Infirmary." The contributions began in September, 1874, and ended
on April 25th, 1876, and during that period the sum of L13 14s. 6d. was
contributed through Prin's instrumentality.
He began by displaying a fancy for playing with coins, not unusual
amongst terriers, and he advanced to a discovery that he could exchange
the coins for biscuits. He learnt that for a halfpenny he could get two
biscuits, and for a penny, three; and, having become able to distinguish
between the two coins, it was found impossible to cheat him. If he had
contributed a penny, he would not leave the bar till he had had his
third biscuit; and if there was nobody to attend to his wants, he kept
the coin in his mouth till he could be served. Indeed, it was this
persistence which ultimately caused poor Prin's death, for there is
every reason to fear that he fell a victim to copper-poisoning.
By a little training he was taught to place the coins, after he had got
the biscuits, upon the top of a small box fixed on the wall, and they
were dropped for him through a slot. He never objected to part with them
in this way, and having received the quid pro quo, he gave complete
evidence of his appreciation of the honourable understanding which is so
absolutely necessary for all commercial transactions.
An authenticated case like this is of extreme value, for just as the
elementary stages of any science or discovery are the most difficult and
the slowest in accomplishment, so are the primary stages of all mental
processes. To find the preliminary steps of the evolution of mathematics
and commerce in a dog is therefore a very important observation, and
everything bearing on these early phases of intellect should be
[Feb. 10, 1877.]
The Spectator is always so kind to animals that I venture to send you
the following story of a dog's sagacity, which may be depended upon as
During the meeting of the British Association at Glasgow, a friend of
mine had occasion to go one day from that place to Greenock on business.
Hearing, on his arrival, that the person he wished to see was out, but
expected shortly to return home, he determined to take a stroll about
the town, to which he was a stranger. In the course of his walk he
turned into a baker's shop and bought a bun. As he stood at the door of
the shop eating his bun, a large dog came up to him and begged for a
share, which he got, and seemed to enjoy, coming back for piece after
piece. "Does the dog belong to you?" my friend asked of the shop-woman.
"No," she answered, "but he spends most of his time here, and begs
halfpennies from the people who pass." "Halfpennies! What good can they
be to him?" "Oh, he knows very well what to do with them; he comes into
the shop and buys cakes."
This seemed rather a remarkable instance of cleverness even for the
cleverest of animals, so, by way of testing its reality, my friend went
out of the shop into the street, where he was immediately accosted by
the dog, who begged for something with all the eloquence of which a
dog is capable. He offered him a halfpenny, and was rather surprised to
see him accept it readily, and walk, with the air of a regular customer,
into the shop, where he put his forepaws on the counter, and held out
the halfpenny towards the attendant. The young woman produced a bun, but
that did not suit the dog, and he held his money fast. "Ah," she said,
"I know what he wants," and took down from a shelf a plate of
shortbread. This was right; the dog paid his halfpenny, took his
shortbread, and ate it with decorous satisfaction. When he had quite
finished he left the shop, and my friend, much amused, followed him, and
when he again begged found another halfpenny for him, and saw the whole
process gone through a second time.
This dog clearly had learned by some means the use of money, and not
merely that it would buy something to eat, but that it would buy
several things, among which he could exercise a right of choice. What is
perhaps most remarkable is that his proceedings were entirely
independent, and for his own benefit, not that of any teacher or master.
A. L. W.
[Feb. 17, 1877.]
When a student at Edinburgh, I enjoyed the friendship of a brown
retriever, who belonged to a fishmonger in Lothion Street, and who was
certainly the cleverest dog I have ever met with. He was a cleverer dog
than the one described by "A. L. W." because he knew the relative value
of certain coins. In the morning he was generally to be seen seated on
the step of the fishmonger's shop-door, waiting for some of his many
friends to give him a copper. When he had got one, he trotted away to a
baker's shop a few doors off, and dropped the coin on the counter. If I
remember rightly (it is twelve or fifteen years ago), his weakness was
"soda scones." If he dropped a halfpenny on the counter he was
contented with one scone, but if he had given a penny he expected two,
and would wait for the second, after he had eaten the first, until he
got it. That he knew exactly when he was entitled to one scone only, and
when he ought to get two, is certain, for I tried him often.
[Feb. 17, 1877.]
In the Spectator of the 10th inst. a correspondent describes the
purchase of cakes by a clever dog at Greenock. I should like to be
allowed to help preserve the memory of a most worthy dog-friend of my
youth, well remembered by many now living who knew Greenwich Hospital
some thirty or five-and-thirty years ago.
At that time there lived there a dog-pensioner called Hardy, a large
brown Irish retriever. He was so named by Sir Thomas Hardy, when
Governor (Nelson's Hardy), who at the same time constituted him a
pensioner, at the rate of one penny per diem, for that he had one day
saved a life from drowning just opposite the hospital. Till that time
he was a poor stranger and vagrant dog--friendless. But thenceforward he
lived in the hospital, and spent his pension himself at the butcher's
shop, as he did also many another coin given to him by numerous friends.
Many is the halfpenny which, as a child, I gave Hardy, that I might see
him buy his own meat--which he did with judgment, and a due regard to
value. When a penny was given to him, he would, on arriving at the
shop, place it on the counter and rest his nose or paw upon it until he
received two halfpennyworths, nor would any persuasion induce him to
give up the coin for the usual smaller allowance. I was a young child at
the time, but I had a great veneration for Hardy, and remember him well,
but lest my juvenile memory might have been in fault, I have, before
writing this letter, compared my recollections with those of my elders,
who, as grown people, knew Hardy for many years, and confirm all the
above facts. There, indeed, was the right dog in the right place. Peace
to his shade!
J. D. C.
[Feb. 7, 1885.]
Have you room for one more dog story, which resembles one lately
reported in a French journal? A few years since I was sitting inside the
door of a shop to escape from the rain while waiting for a trap to take
me to the railway station in the old Etruscan city of Ferentino.
Presently an ill-bred dog of the pointer kind came and sat down in front
of me, looking up in my face, and wagging his tail to attract my
attention. "What does that dog want?" I asked of a bystander. "Signore,"
he answered, "he wants you to give him a soldo to go and buy you a cigar
with." I gave the dog the coin, and he presently returned, bringing a
cigar, which he held crossways in his mouth until I took it from him.
Sent again and again, he brought me three or four more cigars from the
tobacco-shop. At length the dog's demeanour changed, and he gave vent to
his impatience by two or three low whines. "What does he want now?" I
asked. "He wants you to give him two soldi to go to the baker's and buy
bread for himself." I gave him a two-soldo piece, and in a few minutes
the dog returned with a small loaf of bread, which he laid at my feet,
at the same time gazing wistfully in my face. "He won't take it until
you give him leave," said another bystander. I gave the requisite
permission, and the dear animal seized the loaf and disappeared with it
in his mouth, and did not again make his appearance before I left the
city. "He always does like this," said the standers-by, "whenever he
sees a stranger in Ferentino."
GREVILLE I. CHESTER.
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