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 n
t be merely mechanical


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.