An Explanation





[Feb. 9, 1895.]



I think I can explain the puzzle of the Scotch terrier and his interment

of the frogs, for the satisfaction of your correspondent. A friend of

mine had once a retriever who was stung by a bee, and ever afterwards,

when the dog found a bee near the ground, she stamped on it, and then

scraped earth over it and buried it effectually--presumably to put an

end to the danger of further stings. In like manner, another dog having

bitten a toad, showed every sign of having found the mouthful to the

last degree unpleasant. Probably Mr. Acland-Troyte's dog had, in the

same way, bitten a toad, and conceived henceforth that he rendered

public service by putting every toad-like creature he saw carefully and

gingerly "out of harm's way," underground.



A great number of the buryings and other odd tricks of dogs must,

however, I am sure, be considered as Atavism, and traced to the

instincts bequeathed by their remote progenitors when yet "wild in the

woods the noble beastie ran." Such, I believe, is generally admitted

to be the explanation of the universal habit of every dog before lying

down to turn round two or three times and scratch its intending

bed--even when that bed is of the softest woollen or silk--apparently to

ascertain that no snakes or thorns lurk in its sleeping-place.



A dog which I once possessed exhibited such reversion to ancestral

habits in a noteworthy way. She was a beautiful white Pomeranian; and

when a litter of puppies was impending, on one occasion she scratched an

enormous hole in our back-garden in South Kensington, where her leisure

hours were passed--a hole like the burrow of a fox. It was not in the

least of the character of the ordinary circular punch-bowl so often

scooped out by idle or impatient dogs, but a long, deep channel running

at a sharp angle a considerable way underground. Obviously, it was

Yama's conviction that it was her maternal duty to provide shelter for

her expected offspring, precisely as a fox or rabbit must feel it, and

as we may suppose her own ancestresses did on the shores of the Baltic

some thousand generations ago. When the puppies were born, Yama and the

survivor were established by me in a most comfortable kennel in the same

garden, with a day nursery and a night nursery (covered and open) for

the comfort and safety of the puppy. But one fine morning, when the

little creature had begun to crawl over the inclosure of its small

domain, I happened to go into the garden while Yama was absent in the

house, and discovered that my little friend was missing. The puppy had

disappeared altogether; and at the same time I noticed that the

flower-bed in which Yama had made her excavation had been nicely

smoothed over by the gardener, who was putting the place in order. A

suspicion instantly seized me, and I exclaimed, "You have buried my

puppy!" I ran to the spot where the hole had been made, and, having

swept aside the gardener's spadeful of soil, found the deeper part of

the hole, running slanting underground, still open. I knelt down and

thrust in my arm to its fullest stretch, and then, at the very end of

the hole, my fingers encountered a little soft, warm, fluffy ball. The

puppy came out quite happy and uninjured, freshly awakened from sleep,

having shown that his instinct recognised the suitability of holes in

the ground for the accommodation of puppies; just as the hereditary

instinct of his mother had led her to prepare one for him, even in a

South Kensington garden!



FRANCES POWER COBBE.





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