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The Various Uses Of Dogs

( Originally Published 1918 )

" TO guard the flock, drive away the wolf, discover game—those are the dog's great functions; but an intelligent dog can learn to do a thousand other things. I have just shown you Sheep. leading the blind and Loubet turning the spit. Traits abound in which the most varied aptitudes are revealed. For example, who has not seen or at least heard of the errand dog faithfully performing its appointed tasks? It receives a basket containing a purse and a slip of paper on which are written the articles desired. It may be it is to fetch tobacco for the master or get the day's provisions from the butcher. The order understood, the animal sets out, basket between its teeth. It reaches the butcher's door quickly, scratches for it to be opened, puts down the basket, takes out the purse, presents it, and waits until served. Sometimes the return is attended with difficulties. Comrades are met with; attracted by the smell, they desire to investigate the basket's contents. 'If you would only consent to it,' they say, 'what a splendid opportunity! We would divide together.' But, without slowing up, the errand dog raises its lips a little, shows its teeth, and growls : `Don't bother me, you good-for-nothings!

You see plainly enough this is for my master. And it gravely continues on its way, fully prepared to make things lively for the miscreant that should presume to poke its nose into the basket. Thanks to its haughty bearing, the provisions reach home without further adventure."

"The dog must be very well drilled in its duty," commented Louis, "not only to resist temptation like that, but also to refuse to listen to the evil counsels of its comrades."

"And it never occurs to it to stop and have a feast with its friends when it is carrying a pound of tender cutlets ?" queried Jules.

"Never, for these delicate commissions are confided only to dogs whose temperance has been proved."

"The fable," Jules remarked, "says somewhere :

"Strange thing, indeed: to dogs is temperance taught, Which man, the teacher, ever fails to learn."

"Ah, yes, my friend; this beautiful virtue of temperance is hard enough for men to acquire. I know a little boy, now, that was sent one day to a friend's house with a basket of figs or pears, and he couldn't help tasting the fruit on the way, under the pretense of seeing whether it was perfectly ripe."

Here Emile lowered his head with a confused air and scratched his nose, apparently recalling some past misdeed of this sort on his part. But his uncle appeared not to notice him and continued thus :

"Now let us talk about the truffle-hunting dog.

To any of you that may not know it already, I will first say that the truffle is a sort of mushroom always growing beneath the soil, more or less deep, never in the open air. In shape it is quite different from ordinary mushrooms. It is round and plump, varying in size from that of a walnut to that of a man's fist, has a wrinkled surface, and its flesh is black, marbled with white. The truffle is the best liked of mushrooms, especially on account of its perfume.

`To discover it under the ground, sometimes several feet deep, sight is no guide, for nothing above reveals the presence of the precious tubercle. Scent alone will do the work. But however pronounced the aroma of the truffle may be, it is not strong enough for us to perceive it through a thick layer of earth; we must have recourse to the scent of an animal much better endowed in this respect than we. The aid invoked in these circumstances is frequently the pig, itself very fond of truffles and quick to discover them, guided merely by their odor. At the be-ginning of winter, accordingly, the season of this mushroom's maturity, the pig is taken into the woods. Attracted by the odor that exhales from the ground, the animal digs with its snout wherever the truffles are concealed. But if allowed to finish its work, it would reach the tubercle, which would immediately disappear in its gluttonous maw. So the animal is drawn off at the right moment, while as a recompense and to encourage it in this good work it has a chestnut or an acorn thrown to it in place of the mushroom, and then the digging is finished with a small spade. This truffle-hunting requires, as you see, constant watchfulness, since the pig might, in an unguarded moment, unearth the truffle and straight-way gobble it up. A grunt of satisfaction might announce the finding of the edible morsel, but it would be too late : the gluttonous beast would already have devoured the tidbit.

"Hence the dog is preferred to the pig, being more active than the latter, more docile, of keener scent, and seeking the truffles only for its master, with no selfish motive of its own. It is marvelous to see it at work. Nose to the earth, the better to catch the faint emanation from underground, it systematically explores the places that seem to it the most promising, such as copses of young oaks and thickets of brushwood. It scents something. Good! It is a truffle. With much tail-wagging in evidence of its joy the dog burrows a little with its paw to indicate the place. Man continues the digging with an iron tool. But the truffle is not always unearthed at the first attempt; the search involves uncertainties and the following of false leads. 'Let me look into this a little closer,' says the dog to itself. And it pokes its muzzle into the very bottom of the hole, with sniffings that powder its nose with earth. `It is this way, master, to the left; dig again.' The man follows this advice and resumes operations ; but no sign of a truffle. Fresh sniffings at the bottom of the hole. `On the honor of a dog, the truffle is there, and a fine one. This way, master, a little more to the left.' At last the truffle is found, one of the largest of the gathering, and as a reward the dog gets a crust of bread.

"The pig hunts for truffles with no previous education, since it is its nature to burrow in the soil for the tubercles and roots on which it feeds; but the dog has to be taught the business so foreign to its own habits. The first step is to familiarize it with the savor of the truffle, which is done by making it eat a truffle omelet."

"A truffle omelet!" exclaimed Emile. "That 's a dish much to be preferred to a bone."

"But not in the dog's opinion," rejoined his uncle. "Without showing any enthusiasm for this food that is so new to it, the dog accepts it at first partly as an act of obedience, then begins to like it, and finally would ask nothing better than to continue the diet for a long time. But the course of education in this dainty is of short duration, ending as soon as the odor to be remembered becomes familiar to the dog. Then a truffle is hidden in the ground, at first not very deep, to-morrow a little deeper, and the dog is trained in finding it. A caress, a piece of bread, are its recompense each time it does well. Such lessons, appropriately varied and repeated, at last produce the trained truffle-hunter, and the animal is then taken, from day to day, into the woods to perfect itself in its calling by actual practice. Of course this difficult work is the monopoly of dogs having the highest degree of intelligence, notably the water-spaniel."

"That's the one sure to be called upon wherever unusual ability is needed," Jules observed.

"We have just seen the dog rival the pig, even surpass it, in the art of unearthing the truffle. Now I will show him to you taking the donkey's place as a draft animal. An enormous dog harnessed to a light cart is not a rare sight in towns, where butchers especially make use of this singular equipage for the transport of their meat. But as I have something much more interesting to tell you I will not linger over this example. There is a country where the dog is the only draft animal, a country where it takes the horse's place for carrying the master on long journeys. That country is Greenland."

"Greenland is where they heat water in a leather bag by throwing in red-hot stones?" Jules interposed.

"And where they lick the piece of meat chosen for the distinguished guest'" added Emile.

"Yes, Greenland is the country."

"It must be a sorry sort of country."

"More so than you could imagine. In Greenland, as everywhere else near the Pole, winter with its snows and ice lasts two thirds of the year, and the cold is intense. Navigators who have passed the winter in that bitter climate tell us that wine, beer, and other fermented liquors turn to solid ice in their casks; that a glass of water thrown into the air falls in flakes of snow; that the breath from the lungs crystallizes at the opening of the nostrils into needles of rime; and that the beard, stuck to the clothing by a coating of ice, cannot be detached except with scissors. For whole months at a time the sun is not once seen above the horizon and there is no difference between day and night; or rather, a permanent night reigns, the same at midday as at midnight. However, when the weather is clear, the darkness is not complete : the light of the moon and stars, augmented by the whiteness of the snow, produces a sort of wan twilight, sufficient for seeing.

"Squat and undersized, the inhabitant of these rigorous climes, the Eskimo, divides his time between hunting and fishing. The first furnishes him with skins for garments, the second with food. Dried fish, stored up in a half-rotten condition, and rancid whale-oil, viands repugnant to us, are the dainties familiar to his famished stomach. He depends also on his fishing for fuel to. feed his lamp, this fuel being the fat of the seal, and for materials with which to make his sled, which is fashioned out of large fishbones. Wood, in short, is unknown there, no tree, however hardy, being able to with-stand the rigors of winter. Willows and birches, dwarfed to the size of mere shrubs trailing on the ground, alone venture to the northern extremities of Lapland, where the growing of barley, the hardiest of cultivated plants, ceases. Nearer the Pole all woody vegetation ceases, and in summer only a few rare tufts of grass and moss are to be seen ripening their seeds hastily in the sheltered hollows of rocks. Still farther north the snow and ice cannot even melt entirely in summer, the ground is never visible, and no vegetation at all is possible."

"And there are people who give the dear name of home to those terrible countries?" asked Jules.

"There are people, the Eskimos, who inhabit them the year round, in winter living in snow-huts, in summer under tents of sealskin."

"They build houses of snow!" This from Emile.

"Not exactly houses like ours, but huts indeed that afford very good shelter. Regular slabs of snow are cut and piled one on another in a circular wall capped by a dome of the same material. A very low entrance, closed with skins, is left facing the south. To get daylight, they cut a round opening in the top of the dome, and fill it with a sheet of ice instead of a pane of glass. Finally, inside, all around the wall, a bench of snow is built, and it is covered with gravel, heather, and reindeer-skins. This bench is the sleeping-place for the family, the skins are the mattress, and the snow is the straw. In these dwellings there is never any fire: wood is wanting and, besides, with fire the dwelling would melt and come dripping down like rain on the in-mates."

"That 's so," said Emile. "Then where do they make the fire to heat the stones when they want hot water?"

"They do this outside, in the open air."

"And with what, if there isn't any wood in the country ?"

"With slices of whale's fat and fishbones." "They must freeze in those snow huts with no place for lighting a fire?"

"No, for a moss wick fed with seal oil burns continually in a little earthen pot to melt snow and give drinking-water. The small amount of heat thrown out suffices to maintain an endurable temperature in the dwelling, thanks to the thickness of the snow walls."

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