Amazing articles on just about every subject...

The Chief Breeds Of Dogs

( Originally Published 1918 )

"LET us not dwell further on the dog's origin—a very obscure question, concerning which all that one can say is nothing but supposition, although more or less plausible. Let us turn to the study of the animal as found in a state of domestication.

"It would be hard to discover two dogs exactly alike. Were they of the same breed, the same shape and size, they would differ in coat, at least in some details. Three colors, red, white, and black, belong to the dog's coat; sometimes one alone for the whole body, sometimes all mixed, sometimes the three distributed in spots or in great splashes. If the coloring is varied, the spots are hardly ever arranged in order, but scattered by chance. There is want of symmetry in their distribution; or, in other words, on the two halves of the body, the right and left, the spots do not correspond. You might say the same of most domestic animals : you would nearly always note differences between two oxen, two horses, two goats, two cats; and would find that in the same animal both sides of the body are not exactly alike in the arrangement of the colors.

"It is just the reverse with wild animals : there is close resemblance between individuals of the same species, and symmetry of coloring on the two halves of the body. As one is, so are all, with very slight exceptions; as is the right side, so is the left. Whoever has seen one wolf has seen all wolves; whoever has seen from one side an animal with variegated coat has seen both sides. One of the most constant effects, therefore, of domestication is the replacing of this primitive regularity in color by irregularity, this similarity in individuals by dissimilarity.

"The dog's coat goes contrary to every rule except in one most curious respect : if the animal is spotted with white, one of these white spots is always on the end of the tail. Examine a black dog, for example : if you see so much as one white speck on it, no matter where, on the flank, or on the shoulder, you will be sure to see one where I told you. Look at the end of the tail and you will find at least a touch of white there."

"So it is enough to see some white on any part of a dog to be sure that it will have some also on the tip of its tail?" This from Jules.

"Certainly," replied his uncle, "unless, of course, the animal has had its tail cut, in which case I will not answer for it."

"That is plain enough : with the tip of the tail missing the white touch is missing too."

I will add that if the dog has only one white spot, that spot will always be on the tip of the tail."

"That singularity must have a reason?" queried Louis.

"Doubtless it has a reason, for nothing is left to chance in this world, not even the tuft of hair at the tip of an animal's tail. I will tell you, then, that the various wild species akin to the dog, jackals in particular, have, most of them, a white spot on the tip of the tail. It is a sort of family trait which the dog, their ally, perhaps their descendant, is sure to imitate every time it admits any white into its coat. Strange development ! If the dog comes, as is supposed, from the jackal, it has lost its primitive savagery, its bad odor, its nocturnal cries, and has faith-fully retained from its ancestry only the plume at the end of its tail. I will not undertake to explain why, in a fundamental change of habits, one insignificant detail, a mere nothing, shows greater tenacity and remains.

"To the differences in color are added differences in the quantity and quality of the hair. Most dogs have short, smooth hair; some have fine, curly hair, and look as if clothed in wool. Such is the barbet, also called sheep-dog, because its fur reminds one of the curly fleece of a sheep. Others, like the spaniel, have long and wavy hair, especially on the ears and tail. Finally, there are some wretched, unsightly dogs with the body entirely naked. One would think that some skin disease had bereft them of their last hair. They are called Turkish dogs.

"The size is not less variable. The Newfoundland dog is a majestic animal, as large as a calf ; and then you will see a curly lap-dog, good for sleeping on drawing-room cushions, so tiny a creature that it could go into its master's pocket. Between these two extremes there are all degrees.

"If we enter on the details of shape, what diversity, again, do we find ! Here the ear is small and stands up in a point; there it is large and covers the whole of the temple, and hangs down low enough to dip into the porringer out of which the animal eats. One, active in the chase, carries its slender body on long legs ; another, apt at insinuating itself into the fox's narrow hole or the rabbit's burrow, trots on stubby members and almost touches the ground with its stomach. In this one the muzzle is gracefully tapered, made for caresses ; in that, it is shortened into a brutal snout, adapted to warfare. Then there are some whose knotty and twisted legs seem crippled from birth; and there are others whose nose, black as coal, has the two nostrils separated by a deep trench."

"Those dogs look as if they had a double nose," Louis remarked. "They are said to have a keener scent than the others."

`I don't know how far the split nose may indicate keenness of scent. Let us go on and take a rapid glance at the principal breeds of dogs.

"Let us first mention the mastiff, vigilant guardian of the farmhouse and courageous protector of the flock. It is a robust, bold animal, tolerably large, with short, hair on the back, longer under the belly and on the tail. It has a long head, flat forehead, ears erect at the base and drooping at the tip, strong legs, and vigorous jaws. White, black, gray, brown are the colors of its coat. The mastiff has rustic manners, scent far from keen, intelligence little developed. It is found fault with for not being very docile and not lavishing its caresses. Is the charge well founded? When one leads a rude life in mountain pastures, often at close quarters with wolves, can one possess the pretty, endearing ways of the dog reared in idleness? Is not a severe manner the necessary condition of the grave duties to be performed? The mastiff has the qualities of its lot in life, and it has them to such a degree that it is not always of the same opinion as its master, knowing better than he what must be done to protect the flock. Let a wolf appear, and without considering whether it is the stronger or weaker, the brave dog will throw itself on the beast and seize it by the nape of the neck, even at the risk of perishing in the battle. The mastiff does not weigh the danger; it leaps to the call of duty—a noble quality, and one that has given rise to the likening of an energetic and resolute person to a good mastiff."

This wolf-strangler," said Emile, "has my highest esteem, although he is not clever at offering the paw and playing dead."

"You will have no less esteem for the shepherd dog. It is of medium size, generally black, with long hair all over the body except on the muzzle. It has short, erect ears, tail horizontal or drooping. You know with what a swagger most dogs carry their tail over their back, curved like a trumpet. With them that is a sign of high satisfaction. If they are anxious, fear some misadventure, they lower it and carry it between their legs. The shepherd dog disdains this manner of erecting and curving the tail; he carries his modestly on a line with the body and keeps it more or less inclined according to the ideas with which he is preoccupied. That is the behavior of those wild animals most akin to the dog, such as the wolf and nearly all kinds of jackal: none of them curves the tail like a plume, but all carry it drooping. How does it happen that the smallest pug twists its tail into a corkscrew and bears it aloft with a pride bordering on insolence, while the shepherd dog holds his in the humble position adopted by the jackal and the wolf? This too, apparently, is a survival of old customs. Less changed in primitive characteristics than other species, the shepherd dog has retained from its wild ancestors the drooping carriage of the tail and the erect bearing of the ears.

"The mastiff is the protector of the flock, the shepherd dog its conductor. The former is endowed with brute strength, vigorous body, and powerful jaws, but is not distinguished for intellectual gifts. Notice in passing, my friends, that strength of body and strength of mind seldom go together. A herculean athlete, exhibiting his talents in public on fair-day, will break a stone with his fist, lift an anvil and hold it out at arm's length, but would be incapable of putting two ideas together in his small brain. It is about the same with the mastiff : he boldly chases the wolves, but has none of the qualities of mind necessary for guiding the flock.

"This delicate function, calling for a high degree of intelligence, falls to the shepherd dog. While the master rests in the shade or amuses himself playing on his box-tree flute, the dog, posted on a neighboring rise, keeps the flock under his eye and watches that none wander beyond the limits of the pasture. He knows that on this side grows a field of clover where browsing is expressly forbidden. If some sheep goes near, he runs up and with harmless snap-pings turns the animal back to the allotted place. He knows that the rural guard would prosecute with all the rigors of the law if the flock should stray to the other side, newly planted with young oats. They must not attempt it; if they do, he comes threatening and insists upon a hasty retreat. Are the scattered sheep to be gathered together On a sign from his master he is off. He makes the circuit of the flock, barking here, worrying there, and drives before him, from the circumference to the center, the straying throng, which in a few moments becomes a compact group. His mission ended, he returns to the shepherd for fresh orders—a word, a gesture, a simple look.

"I should like above all things to have you see him on duty when the flock is on the road, going to market or changing pastures. He walks behind, absorbed in his grave duties. Dogs from the neighboring farms come to meet him, and they pay him the polite attentions customary at the meeting of comrades. `Go away,' he seems to say to them; 'you see that I have no time to exchange civilities with you.' And without glancing at them he continues his watchful following of the flock. It is wise of him, for already some sheep have stopped to crop the grass at the side of the road. To make them rejoin the flock takes but a minute. At this spot the hedge is open, and through the gap a part of the flock reaches a field of green wheat. To follow these undisciplined ones by the same breach would betray a lack of skill; the sheep, driven from behind, would only stray still farther into the forbidden field. But the wily keeper will not commit this fault; he makes a rapid detour, jumps over the hedge as best he can, and presents himself suddenly in front of the flock, which hastily retreats by the way it came, not with-out leaving some tufts of wool on the bushes.

"Now the flock meets another. A mixing up, a confusion of mine and thine, must be prevented. The dog thoroughly understands the gravity of the situation. Along the flanks of the two bleating flocks he maneuvers busily, running from one end to the other, back and forth, to check at the outset any attempt at desertion from one to the other flock."

"Then," said Emile, "he knows his sheep, every single one of them, to be able thus to distinguish which belong to him and which do not."

"One would almost say so, such discernment does he show.

"Scarcely is this difficulty overcome when another presents itself. Here, right and left, the road has no fences ; access to the fields is free on both sides. The temptation to the flock is great, for here and there most inviting greensward appears. The dog redoubles its activity. Let us go to the left. Well and good; everything is in proper train. Now to the right. Ha, you down there ! Will you please go on without stopping to crop the young grass? That is well. Now to the rear. What is that loiterer doing there? Back to the flock, quick, dawdler ! Perhaps something new has happened on the left; let us go and see. And without a moment's relaxation the indefatigable dog goes first to one side, then to the other, then to the rear of the flock to hurry up the laggards and keep the intractable ones in the right path. If some, more headstrong, turn a deaf ear to his advice and scatter, he is after them in a moment, bringing them back by buffeting their shins with his muzzle."

"And by giving them' a taste of his teeth too?" asked Jules.

"No, my friend; a well-trained shepherd dog does not use his teeth, which would wound the animal; a threat must suffice to bring his sheep to order. To teach him this moderation, it is necessary to take him quite young and exercise a great deal of perseverance, with caresses, dainties, and, if need be, punishment; above all, he must be brought up in the company of a comrade already very expert in the business, since example is the best of teachers. The first time he is sent after the sheep he is closely watched, and if he shows a disposition to bite he is severely corrected. The best shepherd dogs come to us from Brie, a part of old Champagne. From this country is taken the name generally used for the guardian of the flock. Other dogs are called Medor, Sultan, Azor; he is called Labrie."

"I understand," Emile nodded. "Labrie; that is to say, the dog of la Brie."

Home | More Articles | Email: