DOGS, CATS, AND HORSES - A TREATISE ON DOMESTICATION
DOMESTICATED ANIMALS. Their Relation to Man and to His Advancement in Civilization. By Nathaniel Southgate Shaler. 8vo. New-York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. $2.50
(Review 27th December, 1895)
The raison d’etre for this entertaining and well considered volume, is not so much the history and description of those animals which man has domesticated, as it is to show what are the rights of animals and to advance a plea for a more perfect recognition of our duties in regard to God’s dumb creatures, those “that share with us the blessings of existence, and over which we have come to rule.” Prof. Shaler does not appeal to the Laurence Sterne sentimentalities, but in a sensible way impresses on the reader a larger sense of his responsibilities and the duty he owes to those creatures which have been taken from “their older, natural state into the social order.” The author eschews anything like dry science. He approaches his varied subject after the manner of an inquirer. Underneath it all it is perceptible that Prof. Shaler has the keenest love for animal nature and a happy faculty in describing their traits.
When the study of the dog is entered upon aside from bench show exhibitions the inquiry is made as to where may have lived the first dogs. The result of such inquiry is not by any means satisfactory. Naturalists are divided in opinion in all that relates to the exact origin of many of our common domesticated animals. As we see our dog, our horse, and ox to-day, they must be the furthest removed from the original stock. With the dog most particularly this is the case, and for the reason that man’s best friend was certainly the first creature under his control. Was the dog originally a wolf, or worse than that, a hyena? It is not likely that the wolf whelp of the young hyena could have been made a pet of by primitive man. Neither of these animals when adult, shows any affection, and affection or reliance on man, apart from fear, must have first been looked for by the creature’s captors.
If we go back to the remote geological periods, we find some few skeletons resembling what our dog is to-day. It looks as if a kind of dog-like form existed in America, since his traces are found in the Southern Appalachians. He was of moderate size and from the position of the bones “it seems tolerably certain that he lived but a few centuries ago (his ancestry being still uncertain) was first permitted to live about the camps of primitive people as a source of reserve food. When game was scarce the dog was eaten. But in the use of the dog for food, man used his power of selection. Poor dogs, badly built dogs, those which had tempers, or were thieves, were the first to be sacrificed. In this way, unintentionally perhaps, man first exercised what was stirpiculture, and thus for ages the dog must have passed through a process of selection.
The dog, after the woman, was the first beast of burden. The animal not only bore a load, but was harnessed to a vehicle. The baker’s dogs in Belgium or the Eskimo sled dogs sill carry on the tasks performed by their very remote ancestors. Prof. Shaler’s study of the sheep dog is full of interest. It shows how very early must have been the pastoral habit. A shepherd’s first want was for a dog. It must have taken a long time before the natural instinct every dog of any size has, which is to chase and worry sheep was overcome. We know of nothing more remarkable than the subduing of this particular trait. It is the most perfect instance of an animal holding in abeyance a certain remnant of wild nature. Even our own house dogs, even well-broken hunting dogs, will on the sly hunt and worry sheep. They forget themselves. As to the sheep dog, as Prof. Shaler writes, there may not be any more affection for the sheep displayed by the sheep-dog than the dog has for the sheep. It seems as if the collie imposed on himself simply the question of duty. He treasures somehow the memories of some long past, when he had to fight a wolf in defense of his master’s flocks. The dog having sheep under his charge uses force, but force with discreetness. He restrains unruly sheep and may punish a recalcitrant animal with a little bite, but never a severe one.
The qualities of the bulldog, which was used originally for the herding of cattle, and especially the many varieties of dogs, pass under Prof. Shaler’s notice in a general way. It is the differentiation which is so amazing. The singular elasticity of the animal is to be noted. The dog under man’s guidance has become absolutely plastic. The readiness with which the proportions of the dog may, by the breeder’s art, be made to vary is probably due to the fact that the group is one of relatively modern creation. It has, then, that plasticity which we note as a characteristic of many newly established forms. “If the body can be moulded, so then can the brain.”
As to the future of dogs, the author expresses certain regrets as to coming conditions. The dog, he thinks, is becoming a mere idle favourite, length or cock of ear, “feather” of tail, weight, color, being only considered. We breed for form and not for intelligence. A pretty dog wins the championship, and he may be, as he often is, a dull dog. Why should a dog with a black roof to his mouth win a prize when one with a red roof has not a single point given in his favour? The fancy breeder neglects the mental peculiarities of the dog. We look for ornamental things, and so degrade man’s best friend.
Every now and then we read of the wonderful intelligence displayed by the mongrel. Recently a man who makes it his business to train performing dogs said that his most intelligent animals always were mongrels. The experience of the writer of this article tends to the same conclusion, that for intelligence the mongrel is by far the superior of any dog with a long pedigree. The reason is plain. The intelligence of the mongrel is a return to the mental level of his haphazard ancestors, who have been bred for sense and not for form.
We often overlook a marked trait in the dog, and that is the one of ownership. Beaumarchais conveyed the right idea completely when he wrote this inscription on the collar of his dog: “Beaumarchais owns Fidele, and Fidele owns Beaumarchais.” It is not the master alone that the dog thinks he must care for; he is the self-appointed guardian of his master’s chattels. A dog off his own ground seems to know that he has not proprietary rights. People fail to see what complex ideas there are in a dog’s brain, as in the noble mastiff when he acts as a sentry. The memory of the dog is marvellous, as Homer has shown. Unquestionably it is because the dog has the sincerest affection for man that there has been a closer bond of sympathy between men and all domesticated animals. Thus as Prof. Shaler expresses it, the dog has led us “the first steps on the path of culture,” and lifted man out of his “primitive selfishness.”
As to the cat, our author, with most of his sex declares it to be the least “interesting of domesticated animals,” though having a certain place in civilization. It is highly probable that the cat came later than the dog under human control. He cares less of the inmates of a house than for the house itself. The cat is selfish and has supreme obstinacy. As to the intense love the cat has for his home, in which he differs from the dog, who is contented wherever lives his master, the naturalist accounts for that by the statement that the original feral dog hunted over a large extent of country, while the wildcat sought its prey over a limited area. The cat is, then inelastic. He always is too close to his original wild condition, and he tends toward a return to it. We are to suppose that, as a type of animal, he has always been pretty much as he is now, a creature of the most remote past, and not a comparatively new animal as is the dog.
Man is not a strong animal. There are scores of creatures swifter, more powerful. What, in primitive man, would have been his arm and fist when opposed to the foreleg and claws of a panther? In a measure, he was insignificant until he had caught and tamed the horse, and so, from this point of view of human progress, we must divide “the races of men into those which have and those which have not the use of the horse.” Prof. Shaler tells briefly the genesis of the horse, and how in the series of the many-toed animals, finally came the animal with one hoof. Certainly the hoof of the horse “is the most perfect instrument of support which has been devised in the animal kingdom to uphold a large and swiftly moving animal in its passage over the ground.” It was because of this swiftness that the horse escaped the teeth and claws of the huge predacious animals. We are not to forget his powers of defense. The powerful muscles of the hams and the entire strength of the body give to the hind feet the capability of delivering a powerful double blow. The force of the kick can be judged from the fact “that a lion has been slain by a stroke from the foot of a donkey.”
We receive with doubt any discovery, Russian of otherwise, as to the finding of the original wild horse. It looks as if the wild horse of Tartary owed its origin to the same source as did the so-called wild animal of Texas, seventy-five years ago. He has escaped from a tame stock. We know from the pictures incised on bone that primitive man hunted and ate the horse, but the animal never has served in any considerable measure for food. Distaste for the horse as meat may be a prejudice. It is not by any means bad flesh, but our dislike for it can be explained through sympathetic motives common to all men. Because, with the dog, the horse is our intimate, we simply do not like to eat him. The milk from the mares is used but by few races. Probably, if we had cared for it, mares in time might in time have been bred so as to become as profuse dispensers of milk as are cows. It was for war the horse was first used. When the gallant steed had lost his fire he drew the plow. The domination of the world by Aryan and Semite was due to horse power. It may be remembered that before the Chinese fiasco some original military authorities wished to impress the world with the might of the Chinese soldiers. Since the Chinese have but few horses, their conquests would have had but limited areas. We all marvel at the beauty of the Arabian horse. It is quite a question whether Arabia is a country fitted for the better development of the horse. “All varieties bred within the limits of civilization do best on rich pasturages such as Arabia does not afford.” The excellence of the Arab horse has depended, then on the particular attention and care which has been given to him. At the best, the horse is an artificial creature and subjected to a diet which, for the major part, is unnatural. He must be well cared for and fed and watered with precaution. The Arab knows the difference between the physiological conditions of his horse and his camel. The latter is left to its own resources and does well enough, while the horse requires all his master’s care.
As to the mental powers of the horse, those who do not know him intimately insist he is endowed with much sagacity, “but no experienced and careful observer is likely to maintain this opinion.” The bump of locality the horse possesses to an astonishing degree. He can be trained to do many things, but he falls immensely behind the dog in intelligence. Perhaps the special use of the horse in certain directions has passed. Mechanical devices for heavy and light transportation of goods or persons have made the horse much less of a necessity than he was, and unquestionable the need for him will be more and more rapidly diminished in the future. Maybe in the time to come, as Prof. Shaler intimates, the horse may have a purely military function, to be used as cavalry. So we may soon look upon the horse as a creature made either for war or for pleasure – but for no general usefulness, as in the past.
The study of the elephant is excellent. It is the question of his intelligence which is the mooted one. When you become acquainted with the condition of the elephant you cannot help seeing that his native intelligence is marvelous. It is not generally known that the elephant as a domesticated creature was originally a perfectly wild animal. When the English Government is in want of elephants it captures wild ones and tames them. There is no inherited quality, as in the dog. Almost at once the elephant becomes the servant of man. From the jungle he enters into civilization, and almost at once performs his allotted task. Now, intelligence does not mean the possession of all the good traits or qualities. Cunning is intelligence, and because we know the excellence of the dog we place the sagacity of the elephant on a par with it. Is it not, then, wonderful, as Prof. Shaler expresses it, that the qualities of mind which in our other domesticated quadrupeds “have been slowly developed by thousands of years of selection and intercourse with our kind, was in this creature a part of its wild estate?” “The higher the physical parts of the animal are, the cleverer in a mental sense he ought to be, and the elephant is a prodigy, because he has a trunk. He has real constructive qualities. The fault in the elephant is that he is over-emotional. He may love, but he can hate, and he treasures his dislikes. He wears himself out with suppressed rage, and if ever an animal breaks his heart, an elephant does.
We wish we could explain further the distinguishing merits of this volume, which ought to open a new field to those who are ignorant of the characteristics of domesticated animals. The whole subject is a captivating one, and when studied, increases our sense of responsibility, for, if we are the lords of the earth, we are bound to consider our duties toward our lower subjects.