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The Reason Of Dogs





[Nov. 13, 1875.]

Having often read, with great pleasure, the anecdotes about dogs which
from time to time appear in the Spectator, I venture to send you one
which has come under my own observation, and which, it seems to me,
shows an effort of reasoning implying two distinct ideas--one the
consequence of the other--more interesting than many of those clever
performances of educated dogs which may or may not be merely mechanical
actions.

The dog who performed the following trick was then a great, half-grown,
awkward puppy, whose education, up to that time, had been much
neglected. It has been better attended to since, and now, although
sportsmen probably consider such an animal sadly thrown away upon a
lady, he is a very pleasant friend and companion. My two dogs, Guy and
Denis, form as capital a pair, for contrast's sake, as one need wish to
see. They are both handsome dogs of their kind--Guy, a fine black
retriever, with no white hair upon him, and, I believe, in the eyes of
sportsmen, as well as those of his mistress, a very desirable
possession, good-tempered, clever, and affectionate; Denis, as naughty
and spoilt a little fellow as ever existed, and a great pet, also black,
except for his yellow paws and chest, but covered with long, loose
locks, instead of Guy's small, crisp curls.

Denis is exceedingly comic, and a constant source of amusement. He is
very faithful to his mistress, whose bedside during illness he has
refused to leave, even for food; but it must be confessed that he is not
amiably disposed towards most people, and is a perfect tyrant over the
other animals. Some account of the two dogs' character is necessary, to
explain the little scene which took place between them one evening about
a year ago. Guy, it must be premised, is at least twelve months younger
than Denis, consequently, when the former first arrived--a miserable and
very ugly little puppy, a few weeks old, more like a small black jug
than any known animal of the canine species, having had the mange, and
lost all his hair--Denis undertook his education, and ruled him so
severely that his influence lasted a long while; indeed, even after Guy
had grown so big that Denis almost needed to stand upon his hind legs in
order to snap at him, the great dog would crouch meekly at a growling
remonstrance from the little master, and never dared to invade his
rights--to approach his plate of food, or to drink before him. Now a
days Guy has discovered his own power, and although too good-natured an
animal ever to ill-treat the little dog, no longer allows any liberties,
but at the same time, when the scene which I am about to describe took
place, he was still under the impression that Denis's wrath was a
terrible and dangerous matter.

And now for my story, which, it seems to me, shows as much real
reasoning power in an untrained animal as any anecdote that I ever read.
One evening I took my two dogs to the kitchen, to give them the rare
treat of a bone apiece. (Dogs were certainly never intended to make
Natal their home, for, in order to keep them alive at all, they should
never be given anything that they like, especially meat, and even then
the most careful management often fails in preserving them from disease
and death.) One of my sisters was with me, and together we watched the
dogs over their supper. Guy, with his great mouth, and ravenous, growing
appetite, made short work with his, every vestige of which had vanished;
while little Denis was still contentedly sucking away at his small
share, not very hungry, and taking his pleasures sedately, like a
gentleman, as he is. And then Guy began to watch the other with an
envious eye, evidently casting about in his mind how he might gain
possession of that bone. He was even then, though not full grown, so big
and strong that he could have taken it by force with the greatest ease;
but such an idea did not cross his mind; he decided to employ stratagem
to win the prize. I must mention here, that amongst other naughty
practices of my dogs, is that of rushing out of the house and barking
violently upon the slightest sound without. This is Denis's fault,
which Guy, in spite of all my lessons, has contracted from him. With the
evident intention of sending Denis out, Guy suddenly started up, and
began to bark towards the door in an excited manner, but not running
out himself, as he certainly would have done, had he really heard
anything. Down went Denis's bone, and out rushed he, barking at the top
of his voice. Did Guy follow him? Oh, dear no! he had no such
intentions; he sneaked up to Denis's bone immediately, picked it up, and
ran to the other end of the room. But when he had got it, he did not
know what to do with it; there was no hiding-place for him there, and he
dare neither await Denis's return openly, nor risk meeting him at the
door. My sister and I were, by this time, both sitting on a bench
against the wall, watching the scene between the dogs, and Guy, after
running once round the room, with the bone in his mouth, came and crept
in beneath my seat, where he was hidden by my dress, and where he lay,
not eating the bone, and in perfect silence. Presently Master Denis
trotted back, quite unconscious, and shaking the curls out of his eyes,
as much as to say, "My dear fellow! what a fuss you've made; there's
nothing there." He looked about for his bone for a few minutes, but soon
gave up the search, and began to amuse himself with other things. After
a while, I, forgetting the culprit beneath my seat, rose, and crossed
the room, leaving him exposed. Guy was in a great fright; he jumped up,
and running to my sister, who was still seated, he stood up with his
forepaws upon her lap, and the bone still untouched in his mouth, as
though begging her protection. Denis, however, did not observe him, and
after a few minutes, Guy's courage returned, and finally he ventured to
lie down, with the bone between his paws, and began to gnaw it, keeping
one eye fixed on Denis the while. This, however, was going a step too
far. Denis was attracted by the sound, and recognised his own bone the
moment that he looked round. He marched up to Guy (who immediately
stopped eating) and stood before him. Denis growled, and Guy slowly
removed one great paw from his prize. Denis advanced a step, with
another growl; Guy removed the other paw, and slunk back a little,
whereupon Master Denis calmly walked up, took possession of his bone,
and went off with it.

I am bound, however, to remark that after another half-hour's contented
amusement over it, he resigned the remainder, which was too hard for his
small mouth, to Guy, who finished the last morsel with great
satisfaction. Now that he is full grown, Guy still gives up to Denis in
many little ways, but it is evidently through generosity only, for he
has proved himself perfectly capable of taking his own part. But he is
very gentle with his little playmate, except at night, when he lies
across my door-way--entirely of his own accord--and will allow no one
and nothing to enter without my command.

FRANCES E. COLENSO.





Next: A Canine Sight-seer

Previous: The Dog And The Ferry



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