Animal Intelligence

[Aug. 18, 1883.]

Perhaps I should have said the "Intelligence of Animals," but my

meaning, in relation to the interesting correspondence in your columns,

is no doubt clear. The whole question seems to me to lie in the

proverbial nutshell, and to be solvable by the proverbial common sense.

Dogs' hearing is undoubtedly very keen and accurate, and even subtle;

and dogs have also the power of putting this and
that together in a

marvellously shrewd and almost rational fashion. They cannot understand

sentences, but they get hold of words, i.e., sounds, and keep them

pigeon-holed in their memory. I might as well argue moral principle

from the fact that my dog Karl, like scores of other dogs, will hold a

piece of biscuit on his nose so long as I say "trust," and will when I

say "paid for" gaily toss his head and catch the biscuit in his honest

mouth, as argue that because he finds eleven tennis-balls among the

shrubs in five minutes, when I say, "We can't find them at all, Karl; do

go and find them, good dog, will you? Find the balls, old

fellow"--therefore he understands my sentence. He simply grasps the

words "find" and "balls," sees the game at a standstill, and reasons out

our needs and his responsibilities, quickened by the expectation of

pattings on the head, pettings, and pieces of biscuit. It is remarkable

that if I try to delude him by uttering "base coin" in the shape of

words just like the real words, as, for example, if I say "Jacob"

instead of "paid for," he makes no mistake, but refuses the morsel,

however delicate, till it is "paid for."

Prominent nouns, participles, verbs, &c., make up the lingua franca

that so beautifully links together men and dogs, and now and then men

and horses, their intelligence being quickened by their dumbness, as is

that of deaf and dumb men and women, whose other faculties become so

keenly intensified, and who put this and that together so much more

quickly than do we who have all our faculties. There are of course

"Admiral Crichtons" among dogs, as there are among men, but the

difference between dog and dog will generally, I think, be traceable

more to human training than to born capacity. The yearning look which

Karl gives when (told to "speak") he gives forth his voice in response,

is sometimes piteously like "Oh, that I could really tell all I feel!"

He is like, and all dogs of average intelligence are like, the Frenchman

I met yesterday on the beach at Hastings, who wanted to know whether he

could reach Ramsgate on foot before nightfall, and how far it was, and

who, as I only know a few French words, and am utterly unable to speak

or understand sentences, was obliged to make me understand his wants by

a few nouns such as everybody knows, and by causing me to put this and

that together. There is of course the vital defect in the parallel that

I could learn to understand French, and the dog could never learn to

understand sentences; but as so many parallels have vital defects of

some kind, even down to that historic self-drawn parallel between

Alexander and the robber, we may well say, whether we be men or dogs,

"Let me reflect." Dogs do undoubtedly reflect, and reason, and remember;

and they never forget their "grammar," as school-boys do. Instinct, like

chance, is only a name expressing fitly enough our own ignorance. Did

not Luther and Wesley believe in the resurrection of animals?


[Aug. 25, 1883.]

A little illustration of canine intelligence shown by my collie, Dido,

may be added to those which have lately appeared in the Spectator. The

dog was lying on the floor in a room in which I was preparing to go out.

An old servant was present, and when I had given her directions about

an errand on which she was going, I said, "You will take Dido with you?"

She assented, and the dog directly got up to follow her downstairs. I

then remembered that I should want a cab, so I asked the servant to send

one, and not to leave the house till I rang the bell. On her leaving the

room, Dido resumed her quiet attitude on the floor, with her nose to the

carpet. In rather less than ten minutes I rang the bell, and the dog at

once sprang up and ran downstairs to join her companion. I had not

spoken a word after asking the servant to wait for the bell. Was this

word-reading, or voice-reading, or thought-reading.