Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/438

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426

��THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY,

��Commnnlcation with Animals. — Sir :

You did me tlie honor, some weeks ago, to insert a letter of mine, containing sugges- tions as to a method of studying the psy- chology of animals, and a short account of a beginning I had myself made in that di- rection.

This letter has elicited various replies and suggestions which you will, perhaps, allow me to answer, and I may also take the opportunity of stating the progress which my dog " Yan " has made, although, owing greatly, no doubt, to my frequent absences from home and the little time I can devote to him, this has not been so rapid as, I doubt not, would otherwise have been the case. Perhaps I may just repeat that the essence of my idea was to have various words such as "food," "bone," "water," "out," etc., printed on pieces of card-board, and, after some preliminary training, to give the dog anything for which he asked by bringing a card. I use pieces of card-board about ten inches long and three inches high, placing a number of them on the floor, side by side, so that the dog has several cards to select from, each bear- ing a different word.

One correspondent has suggested that it would be better to use variously-colored cards. This might, no doubt, render the first steps rather more easy, but, on th e other hand, any temporary advantage gained would be at the expense of subsequent difficulty, since the pupil would very likely begin by asso- ciating the object with the color, rather than with the letters. lie would, there- fore, as is too often the case with our own children, have the unnecessary labor of un- learning some of his first lessons. At the same time, the experiment would have an interest as a test of the color-sense in dogs.

Another suggestion has been that, in- stead of words, pictorial representations should be placed on the cards. This, how- ever, could only be done with material ob- jects, such as "food," "bone," "water," etc., and would not be applicable to such words as " out," " pet me," etc. ; nor even as regards the former class do I see that it would present any substantial advantage.

Again, it has been suggested that " Van " is led by scent rather than by sight. He has, no doubt, an excellent nose, but in this

��case he is certainly guided by the eye. The cards are all handled by us, and must emit very nearly the same odor. I do not, how- ever, rely on this, but have in use a num- ber of cards bearing the same word. When, for instance, he has brought a card with " food " on it, we do not put down the same identical card, but another with the same word ; when he has brought that, a third is put down, and so on. For a single meal, therefore, eight or ten cards will have been used, and it seems clear, therefore, that in selecting them "Van" must be guided by the letters.

When I last wrote I had satisfied my- self that he had learned to regard the bring- ing of a card as a request, and that he could distinguish a card with the word " food " on it from a plain one ; while I believed that he could distinguish between a card with "food" on it and one with "out" on it.

I have now no doubt that he can dis- tinguish between different words. For in- stance, when he is hungry he will bring a " food " card time after time until he has had enough, and then he lies down quietly for a nap. Again, when I am going for a walk, and invite him to come, he gladly responds by picking up the " out " card, and running triumphantly with it before me to the front door. In the same way he knows the bone card quite well. As regards water (which I spell phonetically so as not to confuse him unnecessarily), I keep a card always on the floor in my dressing-room, and whenever he is thirsty he goes off there, without any sug- gestion from me, and brings the card with perfect gravity. At the same time he is fond of a game, and if he is playful or ex- cited will occasionally run about with any card. If, through inadvertence, he brings a card for something he does not want, when the corresponding object is sho^n him, he seizes the card, takes it back again, and fetches the right one. No one who has seen him look along a row of cards, and select the right one, can, I think, doubt that in bringing a card he feels that he is mak- ing a request, and that he can not only per- fectly distinguish between one word and another, but also associates the word and the object.

I do not for a moment say that "Van" thus shows more intelligence than has been

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