Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/83

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73
REASONING ANIMALS.

We now come to the dog, which perhaps exhibits as high a degree of intelligence as any of the other "lower animals," and a higher order sometimes than the human. As an instance of this we may take the historical case (which seems to be well authenticated) of the human imbecile (not insane) and the Newfoundland dog and child on the bank of the river. As often as the imbecile would put the child in the water the dog would bring it out to save it from drowning; and when at last the child's life was in danger through exhaustion, the dog forcibly restrained the idiot from again putting it into the water. Here was a degree of reason, fidelity, and affection in the so-called "dumb animal" much higher than that in the human specimen before him.

A short time since a gentleman of the highest veracity related to me the following, which he personally witnessed: A child fell into a canal. The father's dog was present and immediately jumped in to save the child. As it came up the second time he caught it and kept it above the water. Finding, however, that he could not properly keep it up without some support, he swam with his charge to a beam which crossed the canal just above the water, and, placing his two fore paws upon the beam, rested there and kept the child's head above water till both were rescued.

Now, in this case, instinct or training might impel the dog to jump in after the child, but it would not enable him to adapt himself to the circumstances (new to him) and utilize the beam as he did. This required perception and reason.

It was the late Henry Ward Beecher, I think, who related and vouched for the following: A large and a small dog happened to start from opposite sides of a stream at the same time to cross it over a narrow board which spanned it. They met in the middle. Both came to a stop, for they could not pass each other on the narrow board. The little dog sat down on the board, held up his head, and began to whine. The big dog stood a moment, apparently cogitating what to do, when suddenly a thought struck him. He spread his fore legs apart to the outer edges of the board, also his hind legs, and then looked at the little dog as much as to say, "Now is your time!" whereupon the little fellow shot through between the big dog's legs and safely reached the other side, wagging his tail with delight and approval of so clever a trick; while the big fellow walked philosophically over to his side, no doubt well satisfied with himself, as he certainly had good reason to be.

Dogs, of course, could be trained to do that as well as many other things, but these had not been so trained. The circumstances were new and quite accidental, and the big dog who solved the difficulty had neither the necessary instinct nor training to aid him, but had to fall back on his own mental resources, and he proved himself quite equal to the occasion.