Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/December 1892/Canine Morals and Manners
|←Recent Glacial Discoveries in England|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 December 1892 (1892)
Canine Morals and Manners
By Louis Robinson
|Protective Devices and Coloration of Land Snails→|
By LOUIS ROBINSON.
IT is always interesting to trace the various habits and attributes of our domestic animals which form the bond of their association with us back to their natural origin. In doing so we can hardly fail to reach some suggestive inferences which bear upon our own early history as well as upon that of the animals we study.
Most of our dumb companions and helpers have become modified by changing circumstances since the partnership began even more than ourselves, and have become partakers with us of the advantages and disadvantages of our civilization. This is especially so in the case of the dog, man's closest associate and earliest ally. The many who happily respond to his affectionate and loyal service by regarding him as worthy of the consideration of a valued friend will, it is hoped, follow with pleasure a few thoughts here put forward which have arisen from a study of the habits that now characterize him as compared with those of his wild relatives.
We must remember that although the dog is now our friend, with interests in the main in harmony with ours, he was not always so. The wild dog and wild man might have been chance allies when, for instance, a fatigued quarry pursued by the pack was struck down by a flint weapon, and the greater part of the carcass left to the original hunters; or when a wounded animal escaped its human foe to be followed up and devoured by the dogs. But, as a rule, the interests of dog and man would be conflicting, as is still the case where wild dogs exist, such as the dingoes of Australia, the dholes of India, and the hyena-like-wild dogs of central and southern Africa.
It must be borne in mind that in dealing with these primitive canine creatures the word "dog" is used in its widest sense, and must include such animals as wolves and jackals, which undoubtedly share in the ancestry of our familiar domestic breeds.
Probably the partnership first began through small, helpless whelps being brought home by the early hunters, and being afterward cared for and brought up by the women and children. The indifference with which almost all savages regard their dogs seems to negative the idea that primitive man took the trouble to tame and train adult wild animals of this kind for his own purposes. The young dog would form one of the family, and would unconsciously regard himself as such. The reason why he should so regard himself will be discussed later when we come to consider the probable canine view of the relationship.
It would soon be found that his hunting instinct was of use to his captors, for while wandering abroad with them his keen nose would detect the presence of hidden game when the eyes of his savage masters failed to perceive it; and when a wounded animal dashed away, his speed and instinct for following a trail by scent would often secure what would otherwise have been lost. The dog in his turn would find an easier living and a better shelter while associated with man than if he were hunting on his own account, and thus the compact would be cemented by mutual benefits.
Now let us consider why the dog should so readily fall into the position of the companion and subordinate of man. What "stock and good-will" did he bring into the partnership besides his swiftness and powers of scenting and seizing his quarry? Let us look for a moment at his life at home as apart from his duties while hunting. In the first place, he evidently regards the dwelling of his master as his own place of abode in which he has certain vested interests, and, while he is complaisant and submissive to the regular inhabitants, he looks upon strangers of all kinds with suspicion, and regards their intrusion as an infringement of his rights or of his rudimentary sense of what is lawful. Although watch-dogs have doubtless been valued for many generations, and their distinctive qualities cultivated by artificial selection, it seems clear that here we are dealing with an original instinct.
The pariah dogs of Constantinople and other Eastern cities, which are practically as untamed as their fellow-scavengers the vultures, crows, and jackals, and which probably have only in the slightest degree ever come under direct human_influence, have the same habit.
Each street is the recognized dwelling-place of an irregular pack, and dogs—and in some cases even men—from other quarters are warned off or attacked if they cross the boundary.
It is said also that the wild dogs of India will drive off a tiger if he strays into the neighborhood of their chosen habitat. Even tame wolves will, without being taught, threaten a stranger if he comes near their master's house, but will take no notice of the coming and going of the regular inmates.
It would seem, therefore, that the watch-dog's peculiar virtue is directly traceable to the old instinct for guarding the lair of the pack. And in following this instinct the dog indicates that it is not his custom to act single-handed. The very fact that he growls or barks at a stranger shows that a vocal intimation to his fellows of the presence of a possible enemy is part of his plan. Every one has noticed that the barking of one dog will set off others within hearing, so that on a still night an alarm at one spot will disturb a whole suburb. Although no wolves or wild dogs are known to bark in the true canine manner, it is impossible to imagine that so distinct and almost universal a habit of the domestic varieties can have been deliberately initiated by man. Several instances are recorded of Eskimo dogs, and even dingoes and wolves, learning to bark by spontaneous imitation of domestic dogs. Foxes make a noise very like barking when they challenge one another among the hills at night, and it is not difficult to provoke an answer by imitating the sound under appropriate conditions. It seems probable, therefore, that the common ancestor of our domestic dogs and their wild relatives, which no doubt lived under somewhat different conditions from any modern feral creatures of the kind, was a barking animal.
As I have already said, the very fact that the dog barks when alarmed is an indication that he is a creature of gregarious instincts, and that he is accustomed to act in concert with others. The sound is a signal to his comrades as well as a threat to the intruder. If this be not so, what can be the meaning and intention of the different tones he adopts according to the nature of the provocation, which are capable of conveying to ears afar off an idea of the measure and nearness of the danger?
Most of our domestic animals, and all which act under our orders and give us willing obedience, are gregarious in their habits when in the wild state. A little thought will show that many of the qualities for which we prize them are dependent upon this fact, and that we are the gainers by turning to our own use the stock of tribal virtues and morals which they bring with them into our service, just in the same way as we gain by appropriating the winter food-store of the bees, and the supply of starch and gluten laid up for future use by many plants. An animal of a troop has perforce certain social duties and obligations, which, as can be shown, are necessary for his own existence as well as for the welfare of the community. He must learn to give and take, and be prepared to follow and obey the members of greater capacity and experience. It is essential that he should be of a peaceable disposition, as a general rule, among his mates, so as to preserve the harmony of the band; since a pack of dogs, like a house, divided against itself will soon prove its unfitness, and be eliminated according to law. He must also be prepared to stand by his fellows, defend them or any of them if attacked, and warn them if danger approaches.
Seeing that most wild animals of the canine tribe prey upon quarry swifter and larger than themselves, their common welfare depends upon systematic and intelligent co-operation. A single hound following a trail by scent, will frequently be at a loss; for every now and then it will overrun and miss the line; but when several are together this will seldom happen, and the pace of the pursuit will consequently be much greater and the chance of a meal more certain. In searching for prey it is necessary for the pack to separate, so as to range a wider area, but the instant a "find" takes place it is important that all should be informed at once, so that a united pursuit may be taken up while the scent is warm. Among all hounds and many wild dogs the signal is given by the voice, but, as will be shown later, the dog has another and very perfect method of signaling in addition to this. For the canine tail, when considered philosophically, turns out to be nothing but an animated semaphore, by means of which important news can be telegraphed to the rest of the pack, in much the same way as messages are exchanged between different detachments of an army by the modern development of military signaling, popularly known as "flag-wagging."
Of course, in hunting all large and swift animals, a great deal can be done by strategy, and this involves a common plan of action often of an elaborate kind, and the giving and taking of orders by the leaders and other members of the band respectively. The value of quick perception and general intelligence, as well as of a readiness to co-operate, here at once become apparent, for without these qualities no such combination could be successfully carried out. Again, when the prey is within reach, it often requires the united efforts of the whole pack, acting intelligently in concert, to pull it down. If a number of wolves or wild dogs were scattered over a district, each acting for himself independently, as cats do, large animals, such as the elk or bison, would be of no use to them as articles of diet, and they might starve in the midst of plenty. But if they combine and act under the guidance of experienced leaders they can at once utilize what would else be, in canine economy, a waste product.
As has been pointed out, this needful co-operation at once involves the elements of politics and morals. The obedience of the young and inexperienced to their leaders, and the observance of certain rules of conduct, are a sine qua non of the success of any strategic combination.
It follows, therefore, that the young of gregarious animals of all kinds, and especially those of this type, are submissive and teachable, and have thus the very qualities we desire in creatures which are to be trained for our special use. In fact, we have here the natural basis for that docility and readiness to obey which is such a noticeable and invaluable characteristic in dogs as we know them.
They must also be faithful to their fellows in word and deed. A hound which gives tongue when he has no quarry before him (and such canine liars are not unknown, as any huntsman will testify) may spoil a day's hunt and send the whole pack supper-less to bed. It is interesting and amusing to observe the evident contempt with which the hounds of a pack regard an untruthful member. His failing becomes perfectly well known, and, let him bay as he will, not one of his companions will rush to the spot as they do the moment they hear the slightest whimper from a trusted and experienced finder.
Loyalty to one another is also a virtue which can not be done without. Thus we see that, however great the emulation between the individual members of the band, while the hunt is on it is kept strictly within bounds, and is subordinated to the common purpose. It is only after the game is captured and killed that contests of individuals for a share of the plunder commence. The very fact that an invitation is given to join in the pursuit as soon as the quarry is started, instead of the finder stealing off after it on his own account, is an illustration of this; and if one of the pack is attacked by the hunted animal at bay or by an enemy, his howls and excited outcry are instantly responded to by all within hearing.
Every one has noticed the uncontrollable power of this instinct when the yells and shrieks of a canine street brawl are heard. Dogs from all sides rush to the spot and immediately take part in the quarrel. The result generally is a confused free fight of a very irregular description, and each dog is apparently ready to bite any of the others. It will easily be seen that this confusion is owing to a disarrangement of natural politics, caused by the disturbing and arbitrary influence of human institutions. If two of the combatants happen to be comrades, they will hold together and treat all the rest as enemies. In the wild state the sounds of strife would mean either a faction fight, or a combat with some powerful enemy of the pack, and probably in the former case every dog within hearing would be a member of one or other of the contending parties. By adopting dogs into our families and separating them from their fellows we upset canine political economy in many ways; but still the old loyal instinct to rush to the support of supposed friends in distress is so strong that a ladies' pug has been known to spring from a carriage to take part in a scrimmage between two large collies.
Among wild dogs the prosperity of the community might be fatally impaired by a lapse of this instinctive loyalty. All who have had to do with hounds know that every pack contains certain individuals whose special talents are invaluable to the rest. Generally one or two of a pack of beagles do most of the finding when driving rabbits in the furze, and in the case of a lost trail another individual will be, as a rule, the successful one in making skillful casts forward to pick up the line of scent. Another, again, will possess quicker vision and greater swiftness in running than the others, and the instant the game comes into view will cease the more tedious method of following, and dash forward at full speed to seize it.
Among wild dogs pursuing large and powerful game, the need and scope for such specialists would be even greater and more important. If one of these were lost through not being well backed up in time of peril, the whole pack would be the sufferers in a very material degree; for it would often fail to start, or lose during pursuit, some animal which might otherwise have been captured.
The study of this communal canine morality is very interesting when considered along with Mr. Herbert Spencer's theories of ethics. It is here dwelt upon, however, merely to explain, on scientific principles, many traits of our domestic dogs which (as is too commonly the case with those who receive benefits) we are liable to profit by and take for granted.
The great naturalist Cuvier observed that all animals that readily enter into domestication consider man as a member of their own society and thus fulfill their instinct of association. The probable view of the fox-terrier or the dachshund which lies upon our hearth-rug, therefore, is that he is one of a pack the other members of which are the human inhabitants of the house.
Most interesting would it be, were it possible, to get the dog's precise view of the situation. The chief bar to our doing so is owing to the difficulty of putting our human minds, even in imagination, within the restricting limits of the canine thinking apparatus. Thus we constantly see, when anecdotes of the cleverness of dogs are told, that the narrator is quite unable, in estimating the supposed motives and mental processes, to get out of himself sufficiently to escape the inveterate tendency to anthropomorphism; and he almost invariably gives the dog credit for faculties which it is very doubtful if it possesses. When we come to consider how few persons have that power of imaginative sympathy with their own kind which enables us to see to some extent through another's mental spectacles, it is no matter of surprise that a human being should generally fail in trying to think like a dog.
Thinking, after all, is, like flying, an organic process, dependent in every case on actual physical machinery; and dissimilarity of brain structure therefore absolutely precludes us from seeing eye to eye, mentally, with the lower animals.
But this structural difference of brain with its inevitable consequences, although it balks us in one way, comes to our aid in another. As has been said, our custom of ascribing human faculties and modes of thought is an involuntary and invariable one when we are dealing with the mental processes of other beings. Even when we speak of the supernatural the same habit is manifest, and human passions, emotions, and weaknesses are constantly ascribed to beings presumed to be infinitely more remote from us in power and knowledge than we are from the dog. Thus we see in the not very distant past, roasted flesh and fruits were thought by men to be acceptable to the gods; doubtless because they were pleasing to the palates of the worshipers, who reasoned by analogy from the known to the unknown. This should teach us to bear in mind that there is, affecting the dog's point of view, almost undoubtedly such a thing as cynomorphism, and that he has his peculiar and limited ideas of life and range of mental vision, and therefore perforce makes his artificial surroundings square with them. It has been said that a man stands to his dog in the position of a god; but when we consider that our own conceptions of deity lead us to the general idea of an enormously powerful and omniscient Man, who loves, hates, desires, rewards, and punishes, in human-like fashion, it involves no strain of imagination to conceive that from the dog's point of view his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog; of different shape and manners certainly to the common run of dogs, yet canine in his essential nature.
The more one considers the matter the more probable does this view become. If we, with our much wider range of mental vision, and infinitely greater imaginative grasp of remote possibilities, the result of our reading and experience, are still bound by the tether of our own brain limits to anthropomorphic criteria when endeavoring to analyze superhuman existences, still more is it likely that the dog, with his mere chink of an outlook on the small world around him, is completely hedged in by canine notions and standards when his mind has to deal with creatures of higher and mysterious attributes.
At any rate, it will not be difficult to show that the dog's habits are generally consistent with this hypothesis. As far as mental contact is concerned, he treats his master and the human members of the household as his comrades, and behaves in many ways as if he were at home with the pack. Thus all the tribal virtues previously mentioned come into play. He guards the common lair and becomes a watch-dog, and by his barking calls his adopted brethren to his aid. He submits readily to the rules of the house because an animal belonging to a community must be prepared to abide by certain laws which exist for the common good. He defends his master if attacked—or, possibly, if not a courageous dog, gets up a vehement alarum to call others to his aid—because he has an instinctive knowledge of the importance of loyalty to a comrade, and because, as has been shown, loyalty to a leader is especially necessary. He is ready in understanding and obeying orders, owing to the fact that, when acting in concert with wild companions, it was absolutely needful that the young and inexperienced should comprehend and fall in with the purpose of the more intelligent veterans. The same ancestral habits and tendencies render him helpful as a sporting dog, and in herding or driving sheep and cattle. This last employment is very much like a mild kind of hunting, under certain special rules and restrictions, and with the killing left out. It has been observed that the Indian dholes will patiently and slowly drive wild animals in the direction of their habitat during their breeding season before killing them, so as to have the meat close at home; and this could only be accomplished by the whole pack exercising a patient self-control, and by the leaders constantly keeping in check the fierce impulse of the younger members to rush in and kill the weary and bewildered quarry.
The peaceable disposition and readiness to submit to discipline are also tribal virtues of which we take advantage. The dog, when he slinks away with drooping tail when reproved, or rolls abjectly over on his back and lies, paws upward, a picture of complete submission, is still behaving to his master as his wild forefather did to the magisterial leaders of the troop, or a victorious foe of his own species.
Jesse states that when a pariah dog of one of the Eastern cities desires to pass through a district inhabited by another pack, he skulks along in the humblest fashion, with his tail depressed to the utmost, and, on being challenged, rolls over, and there remains, limp and supine, submissively awaiting leave to proceed. The same thing can be observed when a large and fierce dog makes a dash at a young and timid one. This expressive and unmistakable method of showing submission is calculated to disarm hostile feelings, and contributes to peace and harmony, and therefore to the unity and prosperity of the body politic.
Although it would seem that the canine imagination from its very feebleness transforms man into a dog, yet, as we should expect, arguing from the cynomorphic hypothesis, it does not stop here. In Darwin's most interesting account of the shepherd dogs of the Argentine, given in Chapter VIII of his Voyage of the Beagle, he shows that, by a careful system of training, the herdsmen have taught the dogs to regard their charges as fellows of the same pack with themselves; insomuch that a single dog, although he will flee from an enemy if alone, will, as soon as he reaches the flock to which he is attached, turn and face any odds, evidently with the notion that the helpless and frightened sheep ranged behind him are able to back him up just as if they were members of a canine community of which he was leader. The passage is too long for quotation, but all who are interested in the subject should refer to it.
An instance of the operation of the cynomorphic idea can be seen in the behavior of a dog when a bone is given to him. He will generally run off with it to some quiet spot, and is of every one who comes near him, evidently having the notion that what is to him a valuable possession is likely to be regarded as such by his human associates. Few dogs when gnawing a bone will allow even their masters to approach without showing signs of displeasure, and a fear of being dispossessed of their property, only consistent with the idea that the bipedal "dog" wants to gnaw the bone himself.
Every one has noticed the elaborate preliminaries which go before a canine battle. Teeth are ostentatiously displayed, the animals walk on tiptoe round one another, and erect the hair on their backs as if each wished to give the impression that he was a very large and formidable dog, and one not to be encountered with impunity. Frequently hostilities go no further than this, and one turns and retires with a great show of dignity, but plainly with no wish to fight.
When we come to analyze these proceedings, it will be seen that the ends of battle are often gained in a bloodless manner by this diplomatic exhibition of warlike preparations and capabilities. The primary object of a hostile meeting between dogs (as well as between higher animals) is to decide a question of precedence, either general or particular. Now, if we could only settle which was the best man in any dispute by duels à outrance, a great deal of blood would be shed unnecessarily, and many valuable lives lost to the community. The introduction of moral weapons is therefore a great point gained, for injury to one is injury to all. The quick recognition of the superiority of a foe, and the perception of when submission should take the place of valor, is plainly of advantage to the individual, since a pig-headed obstinacy in resistance would frequently lead to elimination. Where in the serious business of life there is an interdependence of individuals associated for common ends, any influence which lessens the severity of internecine conflicts tends to the general well-being. Just as commanding officers have forbidden duels between members of an army in the field, so Nature has among gregarious animals, and especially those of predatory habits, discountenanced strife which might weaken the general efficiency of the pack.
Few animals excel the dog in the power of expressing emotion. This power is a sure sign of an animal which is habitually in communication with its fellows for certain common ends. Although probably long association with and selection by man have accentuated this faculty, a considerable share of it was undoubtedly there from the beginning, and was of service long before the first dog was domesticated. It is easy to see how important it is for the general good that the emotions of any one member of a pack of dogs should be known to the others. If, for instance, one of the number should perceive an enemy, such as a snake or leopard, lying in ambush, his rapid retreat with depressed tail would instantly warn the others of the danger.
There are many reasons for the tail being the chief organ of expression among dogs. They have but little facial expression beyond the lifting of the lip to show the teeth and the dilatation of the pupil of the eye when angry. The jaws and contiguous parts are too much specialized for the serious business of seizing prey to be fitted for such purposes, as they are in man. With dogs which hunt by scent the head is necessarily carried low, and is therefore not plainly visible except to those close by. But in the case of all hunting dogs, such as fox-hounds, or wolves which pack together, the tail is carried aloft, and is very free in movement. It is also frequently rendered more conspicuous by the tip being white, and this is almost invariably the case when the hounds are of mixed color. When ranging the long grass of the prairie or jungle, the raised tips of the tails would often be all that an individual member of the band would see of his fellows. There is no doubt that hounds habitually watch the tails of those in front of them when drawing a covert. If a faint drag is detected suggestive of the presence of a fox, but scarcely sufficient to be sworn to vocally, the tail of the finder is at once set in motion, and the warmer the scent the quicker does it wag. Others seeing the signal instantly join the first, and there is an assemblage of waving tails before ever the least whimper is heard. Should the drag prove a doubtful one, the hounds separate again and the waving ceases; but if it grows stronger when followed up, the wagging becomes more and more emphatic, until one after another the hounds begin to whine and give tongue, and stream off in Indian file along the line of scent. When the pack is at full cry upon a strong scent the tails cease to wave, but are carried aloft in full view.
The whole question of tail-wagging is a very interesting one. All dogs wag their tails when pleased, and the movement is generally understood by their human associates as an intimation that they are happy. But when we attempt to discover the reason why pleasure should be expressed in this way, the explanation appears at first a very difficult one. All physical attributes of living beings are, upon the evolutionary hypothesis, traceable to some actual need, past or present. The old and delightfully conclusive dictum that things are as they are because they were made so at the beginning no longer can be put forward seriously outside the pulpit or the nursery. No doubt, in many cases, as, for instance, the origin of human laughter, the mystery seems unfathomable. But this only results from our defective knowledge of data upon which to build the bridge of deductive argument. The reason is there all the time could we but reach it; and almost daily we are able to account for mysterious and apparently anomalous phenomena which utterly baffled our predecessors.
Probably the manner in which domestic dogs express pleasure is owing to some interlocking of the machinery of cognate ideas. In order to understand this better it may be helpful to consider some analogous instances with regard to habits of our own species.
One of the most philosophical of living physicians, Dr. Lauder Brunton, has clearly and amusingly shown that the instinctive delight and eagerness with which a medical man traces an obscure disease step by step to its primary cause and then enters into combat with it, is referable to the hunter's joy in pursuit, which doubtless characterized our savage ancestors when they patiently tracked their prey to its lair and slew it for glory or for sustenance.
Mr. Grant Allen, I believe, first suggested that our appreciation of bright and beautiful colors, and therefore of the splendors of the flower garden or of the sunset tints in the sky, might be owing to the frugivorous habits of our very early progenitors, to whom the sight of red or golden ripe fruit was naturally one of acute pleasure. Supporting this startling inference (which is perhaps not so far-fetched as appears at first sight) is the very curious fact that occasionally, when we feel an acute thrill of pleasure from looking at a beautiful picture, or sunset, or indeed any harmonious combination of color which gives exquisite enjoyment through the eye, the salivary glands appear to be automatically stimulated, and "our mouths water" while we look. It is as if the old track of an out-of-date reflex between the part of the eye which takes account of color and the mouth—proceeding via what may be called the "pleasure centers"—were still open in spite of many centuries of disuse.
Another apposite illustration is the delight we derive from all manner of contests of wits and muscles, so that all our games, from whist to football, partake of the nature of strife for the mastery. A game is of course a systematic and recognized method of obtaining pleasure, and if we take a survey of all the most popular forms of enjoyment of this kind, we shall find that none of them are free from the element of that struggle for supremacy which has been a chief factor in the evolution of the human race, especially throughout the ages of barbarism.
Now if arboreal man took delight in discovering and devouring luscious and gorgeous fruits, and savage man in finding and hunting down wild animals, and barbarous man in fighting his rivals or the foes of his tribe—and all these ancient habits leave an impress upon our modern ways of seeking and showing pleasure—we can see that the dog's manner of manifesting pleasurable emotions may be traceable to certain necessary accompaniments of remote wild habits of self-maintenance.
As with man, so with the dog: civilization has made existence much more complex. The sources of pleasure of the savage man are few compared with those of the cultured and civilized, yet we find that the means of expression which we possess are but elaborations of those existing long before civilization began. We must, therefore, look at the dog's past history and find out what were his most acute pleasures, and what the gestures accompanying them, when he was a pure and simple wild beast, if we wish to elucidate his manner of expressing pleasure now.
There can be no question that the chief delight of wild dogs, as with modern hounds and sporting dogs, is in the chase and its accompanying excitement and consequences. One of the most thrilling moments to the human hunter (and doubtless to the canine), and one big with that most poignant of all delights, anticipation of pleasurable excitement combined with muscular activity, is when the presence of game is first detected. As we have seen in watching the behavior in a pack of fox-hounds, this is invariably the time when tails are wagged for the common good. The wagging is an almost invariable accompaniment of this form of pleasure, which is one of the chiefest among the agreeable emotions when in the wild state. Owing to some inosculation of the nervous mechanism, which at present we can not unravel, the association of pleasure and wagging has become so inseparable that the movement of the tail follows the emotion, whatever may call it forth.
An explanation of a similar kind can be found for the fact that dogs depress their tails when threatened or scolded. When running away the tail would be the part nearest the pursuer, and therefore most likely to be seized. It was therefore securely tucked away between the hind legs. The act of running away is naturally closely associated with the emotion of fear, and therefore this gesture of putting the tail between the legs becomes an invariable concomitant of retreat or submission in the presence of superior force. When a puppy taken out for an airing curves its tail downward and scuds in circles and half-circles at fullest speed around its master, it is apparently trying to provoke its pseudo-cynic playfellow to pursue it in mock combat. It may be observed that this running in sharp curves, with frequent change of direction, is a common ruse with animals which are pursued by larger enemies. The reason of it is centrifugal impulse acts more powerfully on the animal of larger bulk, and so gives the smaller an advantage.
Several years ago there was a good deal of discussion of the distinctive peculiarity of the pointer and setter, in The Field and other papers. It was suggested that the habit of standing still as soon as game was scented, instead of springing forward at once to seize it, was an instance of the manner in which a natural instinct might be absolutely reversed by training. One of the explanations attempted at the time for this apparent anomaly was, that the immovable position of the dog was comparable to the pause which most beasts of prey make before a final spring. But we must recollect, when considering this theory, that few of the Canidæ pounce from an ambush suddenly upon their prey after the manner of cats. And although a terrier will stand immovable before a rat-hole for hours together, his patient, watchful attitude is very different from the rigid and strained position of the pointer or setter; which position also has nothing in it suggestive of crouching, preparatory to a rapid bound forward, as is seen when a cat stalks a bird, and then gathers herself together before the final coup.
Not infrequently the tail of a young setter when it sets game may be seen trembling and vibrating as if it had a disposition to wag, which was kept in check by the supreme importance of not disturbing the hare or covey. The tail also is held out in full view like a flag, whereas a rat-catcher's dog on the watch at a hole will often droop its tail.
I think that there can be no doubt that the pointer and setter, in acting in their characteristic manner, are following an old instinct connected with an important piece of co-operative pack strategy, although the peculiarity has been enhanced by human training and selection, and the sportsmen with their guns have supplanted, and therefore act the part of, the dog's natural comrades in the chase.
The writer, during his boyhood, had charge of a small pack of beagles at a South Down homestead, several of which were allowed to run loose at night as a guard against the foxes. Among these was an old dog, a part bred Skye terrier, very sagacious, and well known in all the country round as a sure finder when the pack were used to drive rabbits in the gorse.
Old Rattler (what a throng of memories the name calls up!) was the recognized leader of the others, and not infrequently he would conduct them on a private hunting expedition, in which he served as sole huntsman and whip. Often on a still night his sharp yapping bark, accompanied by the clearer, long-drawn music of the beagles, might be heard among the hills, as they drove a predatory fox from the farm-buildings, or strove to run down one of the tough South Down hares. It soon became evident that this pack had a certain regular system of co-operation, and, like the African wild dogs, well described by Dr. S. T. Pruen, in his recent book, The Arab and the African, they made a practice of playing into one another's hands, or rather, mouths. Old Rattler would generally trot on ahead, surveying every likely tuft of grass or ling, and exhibiting that inquisitiveness and passion for original research so characteristic of the terrier. On arriving at a small outlying patch of furze he would invariably proceed to the leeward side, so that as the wind drew through the covert it would convey a hint of whatever might be there concealed.
He would give several critical sniffs, with head raised and lowered alternately, and then would either trot indifferently away, or else stand rigid with quickly vibrating tail and nose pointing toward the bush. The other dogs seemed to understand instantly what was required of them, and they would quickly surround the covert. When they were all in their place, and not until then, the cunning old schemer would plunge with a bound into the furze, and out would dash a hare or rabbit, often into the very jaws of one of the beagles.
By this artifice, which had never been taught them by man, the pack when hunting for themselves would doubtless often secure a meal, preceded by the delight of killing, without the wearisome process of tiring out a hare.
Now it appears to me that this habit of the leader of the pack—a habit which, from its similarity to what has been observed in the case of such widely separated Canidæ as the dingo, wolf, and hyena dog, is one that is traceable to very remote wild ancestors—is the basis of that peculiar talent in the pointer or setter which adds to the piquancy of a day's shooting and to the weight of the bag.
Let us endeavor to look at the part played by a pointer in the light of cynomorphic theory.
"Ponto" goes out with his pack (often a very scratch one), his comrades walking on two legs instead of four like ordinary dogs, and carrying their tails, or organs of a somewhat similar aspect, over their shoulders. The pack separate and advance in line, he being appointed to explore in the van and to search the turnips or rape for a tell-tale whiff of the scent of game. The covey is detected, but, being a co-operative and loyal dog, he does not rush in and try to catch for himself. He therefore stands and waits for his partners to perform their share of the stratagem. All that he has to do is to show them in an unmistakable manner that there is quarry worth having in front of his nose. The pack advance, he generally taking careful note of their approach, the covey rises, the "tails" of the bipedal dogs explode, and Ponto is rewarded by holding in his mouth a palpitating mass of feathers, with perhaps the stimulating flavor of blood, and by a public intimation that the community or pack approve of his conduct and esteem him, what he dearly loves to be thought, "a good dog."
When we come to consider the very long period during which dogs have been domesticated and under the influence of deliberate selection, it is surprising to find how much in their behavior they resemble their wild brethren. The rule seems to hold good here as elsewhere, that the outward form is much more plastic to the influence of environment than the character and mental habits which are dependent upon the nervous system. Thus, although the deer-hound and pug are so different in external appearance that it is difficult to believe that they are related, yet if we watch them we find that their mental and moral qualities are of a similar cast. The fine gray wolf in the Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park, and the performing wolves recently exhibited in London, when in a good humor, had precisely the same methods of expressing pleasure as the domestic dogs, and would wag their tails and gambol about in a manner which made one doubt for the moment whether they were not in reality Scotch collies masquerading as wild beasts.
There are many other traits in our domestic dogs suggestive of their ancestral habits which can not be dealt with in this article, but which offer a most interesting field for study to every one who possesses a dog and a taste for research in this direction.
In concluding it may be well to notice briefly the chief points of dissimilarity between the wild and tame Canidæ. In the first place, there is a general difference of aspect and bearing which it is difficult to describe exactly. The wild animal has an alert, independent look which the tame one has lost, chiefly owing to its long-continued habit of dependence upon man. Although, of course, all breeds of tame dogs have been at some time or other deliberately adapted by training and selection for special purposes, yet there seem certain characteristics which have risen spontaneously, or because the parts in which they are manifest are correlated with some others where an intentional change has been brought about. Darwin gives an instance of this in the hairless dogs, which at the same time are deficient in teeth. This question of correlation is one of the most interesting and obscure problems of natural history and perhaps we are at present a little too ready (with our hereditary tendency to take refuge in an imposing mystery whenever our reasoning powers fail us) to ascribe to it certain phenomena, the explanation of which by the ordinary laws of evolution is most clear.
Most probably the drooping ears of our domesticated hounds and hunting dogs primarily arose from the fact that the savage huntsman, disregarding shape, picked those dogs to breed from which manifested the keenest powers of scent, and that in these individuals the ears were not so much in use as with others. Again, in every litter of whelps the surly, independent, and ill-tempered brute would always be more likely to be eliminated than those which were confiding and tractable; and so, from age to age, the chief outward traits which distinguish the dog from wolves and jackals would tend to increase.
Finally, the instinct of association has, in the case of the domestic dog, become more exactly fitted to the new conditions of environment. He makes himself thoroughly at home with us because he feels that he is with his own proper pack, and not among strangers or those of an alien race. The wild animal, on the contrary, which refuses to become domesticated, still has the perception that those who would palm themselves off as his comrades are creatures of a different nature. He sturdily refuses to become a party to the fraud, and remains suspicious of their intentions; and, whatever they may do to propitiate him, he keeps on the qui vive as against a possible enemy.—The Contemporary Review.
- The Method of Zadig in Medicine, p. 5. Macmillan & Co. 1892.