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The Moor and the Loch
Instinct of Dogs


IT is often amusing to hear those who know little about the subject describing the " almost reason " of the St. Bernard's dog, and not unfrequently of the Scotch "colley."

It appears to me that the instinct of these animals is more prominently forced upon their notice, and they do not take the trouble to watch and discover it in the other species. Sagacity is more equally distributed among the different varieties of the dog than such casual observers are aware of; but it, of course, takes different directions, according to the temper, habits, and treatment of the animal. It would be a waste of time so far to control the keen tempers of sporting dogs (by which I mean setters and pointers) as to make them perform the duties of a well-broke phlegmatic retriever. The instinctive power may therefore appear greater in one than the other ; but from the quiet easy temper of the retriever, it is much less difficult to develop and make use of his instinct in that particular way : while the setter and pointer, owing to their more active life and hunting propensities, may often pass unnoticed, even by their masters, though, every time they are in the field, displaying as much tact as the most cautious retriever. Their sagacity is never thought of; and the only praise they get is, that they are " excellent dogs," which means that they find plenty of game.

There is another reason why sporting dogs appear more deficient in sense than some others, and that is their mode of life. Confined always in the kennel unless when seeking game, all their powers are employed to this end. There are, however, abundant proofs, that when made companions, and suffered to occupy a place upon the hearth-rug, they are capable of the same attachment, and would equal in sagacity the much-lauded dogs of St. Bernard. [May we not be allowed to suppose the dog in Helvellyn, whose attachment to its dead master was thought a fit subject for their muse by two great poets of the day, was of the sporting kind 2-at all events it was "not of mountain breed ! !"] Indeed, the usual mode of imprisoning sporting dogs is so great a disadvantage, that I have seen some with excellent noses and every requisite for the moors, grow sulky, and refuse to hunt with their usual freeness, unless left in a great measure to themselves. This, I know, arose partly from a want of proper management, and not keeping the medium between encouraging kindness and merited correction; for too much lenity is nearly as injurious to a dog as over severity: suikiness will often be the effect in the one case, shyness in the other. Still, if the dog were allowed to be the companion of his master, he would both acquire sense and tact in half the time, and would not give half the trouble either by shyness or sulkiness; whereas it will generally be found, that a kennel dog is long past his best before he excels in that sagacity on the moor which so greatly assists him in finding game. Even the veriest village cur, when kindly treated and permitted to bask at the "inglenook," will learn all sorts of tricks, many of them requiring as much reflection as the most intricate duties of the shepherd's dog. I had a little cocker reared in a cottage, that of its own accord, when only seven months old, brought in the post-bag, thrown down by the mail in passing. The person who had charge of it, having been detained a little, was astonished to see the bag safely deposited in the house; and, upon watching next day, saw the little creature marching along with its load. It had seen the bag carried in once or twice, and immediately learned to do so.

I do not mean to deny that some varieties of the dog may excel others in sagacity-but this will be found in most cases to arise from other circumstances than the natural gift-and that dogs whose avocations require a phlegmatic, quiet temper, have certainly the advantage over others, though the instinctive powers of both, in the first instance, may have been equal. A terrier, for example, may and has been taught to herd sheep, and if kept to this employment, would appear more sensible; but his snappish disposition (an advantage in his own more congenial occupations) renders him unlikely to excel in those of the colley. The latter again is admirably adapted for his own work; his thick, rough coat protects him from the severity of the weather to which he is constantly exposed, and his less ardent temper prompts him to look for guidance from his master in all his movements. Both sheep-dogs and terriers may be taught to point; but they are always deficient in hunt, and their olfactory powers are never so acute as in those dogs which nature seems to have formed for the purpose. We thus see that dogs are trained to different employments, for many qualifications apart from their instinctive powers, though these may be materially increased or retarded by the nature of their occupations.

The Newfoundland and water-dog are generally reckoned paragons of sagacity; but has their treatment nothing to do with this? From their earliest days taught to fetch and carry, and never leaving their master's side, they learn to understand his least signal, and from constant practice sometimes even anticipate his will. This is also precisely the case with the colley: as soon as it is able, made to follow the shepherd to the hill, and from every-day habit always on the alert to please him, it daily acquires greater dexterity both in comprehending and obeying, till at last it can perform feats that perfectly astonish those who have not seen the gradual process. My retriever, already mentioned, has given many proofs of sagacity which have excited the admiration of those present; and yet I don't consider him at all more knowing than the old pointer, whose cut I have likewise given. A superficial observer would wonder at the comparison ; but, independent of the tact and ingenuity displayed by the pointer in finding game, I feel convinced that if his educational advantages and temper had been the same as the retriever's, he would have equalled him in his own beat.

To illustrate my meaning, I may mention a feat or two of each: - Having wounded a rabbit on the moors when the pointer was behind a knoll, but fancying, from the agility with which it made its escape, that I had missed it altogether, I was surprised to see him shortly afterwards bring a rabbit and deliberately lay it down at my feet. It would have been nothing if the dog had been taught to fetch and carry ; but, on the contrary, he is, of course, broke to drop at the shot and never to lay a tooth upon game. Had he seen me fire and afterwards stumbled upon the rabbit, he would from his breaking have thought he had no business to touch it ; but, not having seen the shot, he fancied he had a right to bring what he had himself found upon the moor. Any person who was no judge of dogs would have said, " Why, this is no more than what any retriever puppy would have done." It is not, however, the mere act alone, but the connecting circumstances which often show the superior instinct of the canine species.

The performances of the retriever are more showy, and the generality of observers would immediately on that account pronounce him the more sagacious dog. In taking a walk with him last winter, I met a friend who had dropped a whip : if this had happened to myself, there would have been no difficulty, as I had only to send the dog off upon my track; but upon trial, lie immediately ran back upon that of my friend, recovered the whip, and brought it to me. Another time, when he was following an open carriage, a shawl was dropped ; no one perceived the loss until the dog was seen carrying it in his mouth behind. Not long after a bouquet of flowers was missed: I immediately looked round for the retriever, and, to be sure, there he was with the bouquet most jauntily carried in his mouth. But perhaps the following instance may serve still better to show the influence of temper and education upon the instinct of dogs. Having taken sea-bathing quarters for my family, about forty miles from my residence in Perthshire, I walked there over the hills, accompanied by my faithful retriever. When I returned for a week's shooting, I ordered old "Gruff" to remain behind. After waiting three days, and finding I did not come back as he expected, he started off one night about nine o'clock, made his way through the most intricate by-paths and short cuts of all descriptions, across a deep ferry, and arrived at home about five next morning, when he was discovered lying at the door. There are many authenticated accounts of dogs making much more distant journeys than this ; but the point to be noticed is, his remaining three days, though perfectly at large, and then taking his departure. A keen-tempered dog would have started the next day, at latest, or, by having his attention engrossed with other things, have remained quietly where he was. Even in the former case, he would not have gained half so much credit for sagacity, as every one must have perceived that the patient retriever waited to see whether or not his master would return. Few would give themselves the trouble to remark that his education and apathetic temper favoured him in this particular, and that equal instinct might have been shown in the more hasty resolves and quicker movements of another. It is thus that keen dogs always appear deficient in sense, because they are hurried away by their temper from one thing to another; and their feats are seldom such as to arrest the attention or excite the wonder of the general observer. The instances I have given are merely mentioned as explanatory of my theory, viz.; that we are apt to overvalue one dog for sagacity, while we overlook its more unpretending neighbour, because, from shyness, surliness, eagerness of temper, or want of practice, all its powers of instinct and memory are employed in a different and less obvious way; for there is no doubt, if a dog is eager, shy, or sulky, it may have superior instinct, and yet show less than another of a more phlegmatic, sociable, or easy disposition. This accounts for the difficulty of procuring a good retriever from a cross between the water-dog and terrier, so valuable if the medium between them is preserved; because, when the dog partakes too much of the nature of the terrier, his quick temper unfits him for the purpose, [A dog of a very cool temper will retrieve wild-fowl better in loch-shooting, than another with quicker movements and perhaps a finer nose. Many of the cripples in this shooting take refuge in weeds and bushes, and the keen-tempered dog is apt to overrun them, thus losing time ; whereas the other slowly tracks them one by one to their hiding-place. It must be recollected that I do not speak of coast and cover-shooting, where more agility is required : on the coast, from the numbers to be secured after a heavy shot of the stanchion gun; and in cover, that wounded hares and rabbits, winged pheasants, &c., may be more speedily retrieved. For my own part, I should prefer the slow dog even in cover ; but few sportsmen like to wait] and when too little, he is generally deficient in nose. A cross between the water-dog and any others of the sporting kind would be still less likely to suit; and the Newfoundland is too large, and of the wrong colour. Perhaps (the noses of colleys and terriers being pretty much upon a par) a breed between a water-dog and colley might answer well; there is only the objection, that the progeny might be too large and conspicuous.

With regard to the St. Bernard dogs, what is it they do but what almost any dog of equal strength might be taught also? It is certainly a noble occupation, but far, I should think, from difficult, to teach a dog to run the track of a man upon the bare mountain, and either guide or carry the benumbed wretch home. The colleys in the Highlands do the same when sheep are in jeopardy, and know their own flocks from any others. They will also climb hills and work by the slightest signal from their masters at the foot. [A shepherd of my late father, celebrated for having the best colleys in the country, preferred those with quick tempers, to save himself trouble. This man used to stand at the door of his hut, sending his dogs to "clear the marches," at the tops of the highest hills. They worked by signal long after they could not hear his voice. For this distant work, a slow dog, though more easily broke at first, and steady as a rock afterwards, was often found too lazy. The shepherd has known one lie down to rest for an hour behind a rock, when he thought himself unobserved. He therefore reserved these cool geniuses for the near work, and sent the younger and more keen-tempered on the distant and toilsome duty.] All this may appear very wonderful to any one unacquainted with the nature of dogs; and still more so when he sees the very colley which had excited his admiration, completely outdone in some more domestic feats of usefulness by a wretched turnspit.

If, therefore, my hypothesis be correct, that there is not so much real difference in the instinct of dogs, but that the degree of sagacity they will exert for our benefit or amusement depends in a great measure upon their tempers and dispositions; and that the treatment they meet with has much to do in forming these tempers and dispositions, it follows that too great care cannot be taken to train them properly, and especially never to correct in anger or caprice.


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