Instinct Of Locality In Dogs

[March 4, 1893.]

A cat carried a hundred miles in a basket, a dog taken, perhaps, five

hundred miles by rail, in a few days may have found their way back to

the starting-point. So we have often been told, and, no doubt, the thing

has happened. We have been astonished at the wonderful intelligence

displayed. Magic, I should call it. Last week I heard of a captain who

sailed from Aberdeen to Arbroath. He le
t behind him a dog which,

according to the story, had never been in Arbroath, but when he arrived

there the dog was waiting on the quay. I was expected to believe that

the dog had known his master's destination, and been able to inquire the

way overland to Arbroath. Truly marvellous! But, really, it is time to

inquire more carefully as to what these stories do mean; we must cease

to ascribe our intelligence to animals, and learn that it is we that

often possess their instinct. A cat on a farm will wander many miles in

search of prey, and will therefore be well acquainted with the country

for many miles round. It is taken fifty miles away. Again it wanders,

and comes across a bit of country it knew before. What more natural than

that it should go to its old home? Carrier-pigeons are taught "homing"

by taking them gradually longer flights from home, so that they may

learn the look of the country. We cannot always discover that a dog

actually was acquainted with the route by which it wanders home; but it

is quite absurd to imagine, as most people at once do, that it was a

perfect stranger to the lay of the land. To find our way a second time

over ground we have once trod is scarcely intelligence; we can only call

it instinct, though the word does not in the least explain the process.

Two years ago I first visited Douglas, in the Isle of Man. I reached the

station at 11 p.m.; I was guided to a house a mile through the town. I

scarcely paid any attention to the route, yet next morning I found my

way by the same route to the station, walking with my head bent, deeply

thinking all the time about other things than the way. I have the

instinct of locality. Most people going into a dark room that they know

are by muscular sense guided exactly to the very spot they wish; so

people who have the instinct of locality may wander over a moor exactly

to the place they wish to reach without thinking of where they go. There

may be no mental exercise connected with this. I have known a lady of

great intelligence who would lose her way within half-a-mile of the

house she had lived in forty years. This feeling about place belongs to

that part of us that we have in common with the lower creatures. We need

not postulate that the animals ever show signs of possessing our

intelligence; they possess, in common with us, what is not intelligence,

but instinct.


[Sept. 24, 1892.]

Will you allow me to record in the Spectator "another dog story"? It

is one that testifies, for the thousandth time, to canine sagacity,

and, as we are still in the silly season, which has this year in

particular been so very prolific in human follies, it may be of special

interest to learn some clever doings on the part of beasts. Quite

recently a Westphalian squire travelled by rail from Luexen to Wesel, on

the Rhine, for the purpose of enjoying some hunting, and took with him

his favourite hound. The hunting party was to have started on a Sunday

morning at nine o'clock, but, to the squire's great disappointment, his

sporting dog could nowhere be discovered. Disconsolate, he arrived on

the following Monday afternoon at his house, and, to his great delight,

he was greeted there with exuberant joy by his dog. The latter, who had

never made the journey from Luexen to Wesel, had simply run home, thus

clearing a distance of eighty English miles through an unknown country.

Why the sporting dog should have declined to join the hunt is, perhaps,

a greater mystery than the fact of his returning home without any other

guidance than his sagacious instinct. Possibly he was a Sabbatarian, and

objected to imitate his master's wicked example. So, Sunday papers,

please copy!


[Sept. 8, 1894.]

May I be allowed to offer to your readers yet another instance of the

faithfulness and sagacity of our friend the dog? The anecdote comes from

a distinguished naval officer, and is best given in his own words: "This

is what happened to a spaniel of mine. It was given to our children as a

puppy about three or four months old, and we have had it about five or

six months, making it about ten months old. It was born about three

miles from here, at Hertford, and has never been anywhere but from one

home to the other. When the time came for breaking him in for shooting

purposes, I sent him to a keeper at Leighton-Buzzard, and, to insure a

safe arrival, sent the dog with my man-servant to the train here, and

thence to King's Cross. He walked with the dog to Euston Station, turned

him over to the guard of the 12.15 train and the animal duly arrived at

Leighton-Buzzard at 1.30, and was there met by the keeper and taken to

his home about three miles off. That was on the Friday. On the following

Tuesday, the dog having been with him three full days, he took him out

in the morning with his gun, and at eight o'clock on Wednesday morning

(that being the following day) the dog appeared here, rather dirty, and

looking as if he had travelled some distance, which he undoubtedly had.

There is no doubt that this puppy of ten months old was sent away,

certainly forty or fifty miles as the crow flies, and that he returned

here in a day. How he did it no one can say, but it is nevertheless a

fact. It would be interesting to know his route and to trace his

adventures." This anecdote is the more remarkable in consequence of the

extreme youth of the dog, and particularly as he belongs to a breed of

sporting dogs which are not generally considered to rank among the most

intelligent of the species.


[Sept. 15, 1894.]

The "True Story of a Dog," in the Spectator of September 8th, may be

matched, possibly explained, by a similar occurrence. I had bought a

Spanish poodle pup of an Irishman who assured me, "Indade, sir, an' the

dog knows all my childer do, only he can't talk." He shut doors, opened

those with thumb-latches, and rushed upstairs and waked his mistress at

words of command. One day we were starting to drive to our former home

in the city, six miles distant, but the dog was refused his usual place

in the carriage, and shut up in the house. When we arrived, to our

astonishment we found him waiting for us on the doorstep! We could not

conceive how he got there, but upon inquiry found that he had got out,

gone to the station, in some way entered the train, hid under a seat,

and on arrival in the city threaded his way a mile through the streets,

and was found quietly awaiting our arrival.

R. P. S.

[May 3, 1884.]

How do we know that in inviting dogs to the use of words Sir John

Lubbock is developing their intelligence? Are we sure that he is not

asking them to descend to a lower level than their own, in teaching them

to communicate with us through our proper forms of speech, unnecessary

to them? I can vouch for the truth of the following story. A young

keeper, living about twelve miles east of Winchester, on leaving his

situation gave away a fox-terrier, which had been his constant companion

for some months; he then took another place in the north of Hampshire,

near the borders of Berkshire, in a part of the country to which he had

never been. The new owner of the dog took her with him to a village in

Sussex; before she had been there long she disappeared, and after a

short time found her old master in the woods at his new home. As I have

said before, he had never been there before, neither had she. Rather

ungratefully, he again gave the dog away, this time to a man living some

way north of Berkshire; she came back to him in a few days, and, I am

happy to say, is now to be allowed to stay with the master of her

choice. Can such a nature need to be taught our clumsy language.


[Feb. 16, 1895.]

As I see that you have published some interesting anecdotes about dogs,

I send you the two following, which perhaps you may think worth


In 1873 we came to live in England, after a residence upon the

Continent, bringing with us a Swiss terrier of doubtful breed but of

marked sagacity, called Tan. One day, shortly after reaching the new

home from Switzerland, the dog was lost under the following

circumstances:--We had driven to a station eight miles off--East

Harling--to meet a friend. As the friend got out of the railway carriage

the dog got in without being noticed and the train proceeded on its way.

At the next station--Eccles Road--the dog's barking attracted the

attention of the station-master, who opened the carriage door, and the

dog jumped out. The station-master and the dog were perfect strangers.

He and a porter tried to lock up the dog, but he flew viciously at any

one who attempted to touch him, although he was not above accepting

food. For the next three days his behaviour was decidedly methodical;

starting from the station in the morning, he came back dejected and

tired at night. At last, on the evening of the third day, he reached

home, some nine miles away, along roads which he had not before

travelled, a sorry object and decidedly the worse for wear; after some

food he slept for twenty-four hours straight off.

Anecdote number two. One day a handsome black, smooth-haired retriever

puppy was given to us, whom we named Neptune. The terrier Tan greatly

resented having this new companion thrust upon him, and became very

jealous of him. Being small, he was unable to tackle so large a dog, but

sagacity accomplished what strength could not. Tan disappeared for two

days. One evening, hearing a tremendous commotion in the yard, we

rushed out to find a huge dog of the St. Bernard species inflicting a

severe castigation upon poor Nep, Tan meanwhile looking on, complacently

wagging his tail. Both Tan and his companion then disappeared for two

more days, after which Tan reappeared alone, apparently in an equable

frame of mind, and satisfied that he had had his revenge. We never

discovered where the large dog came from. I can attest the truth of the

two stories.