I daresay, like veterans telling of their wars, the old gentleman may have exaggerated the many anecdotes he related of that dog's sagacity. Yet I do not know, for nothing he said could surpass the well-authenticated stories of the almost superhuman intelligence of the shepherd's dog. Read the autobiography of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, and his recollections of the feats of his famous collies. It may be said that seeking and gathering hundreds of scattered sheep in darkness, storm, and blinding snow-drift, or that "shepherding" in the stragglers to the folds over trackless hill pastures cut up by innumerable gills or gullies, is only the result of instinct developed by education for generations. The dog, whether trotting ahead on the hill or blinking and half dreaming on the sheepskin in the chimney-corner, is ever in touch with his master's mind, and turns naturally to his eye. From puppyhood he has been initiated in all his ways. But what is to be said of his understanding of conversation ? The Ettrick Shepherd wrote poems and novels, and may be supposed to have drawn on his imagination. But Frederick St. John, author of some of the very best books on sport and natural history, is above suspicion. And he tells us that when sitting with a shepherd one evening in his cottage on the moors, the man remarked casually in course of conversation and without changing his tone, " I'm thinking that the cow's in the corn." Whereupon his collie, who had seemed quite indifferent to their talk, jumped up, rushed to the door, saw that it was a false alarm, and curled himself up again. A few minutes afterwards the same trick was played, with the same results. The third time the victim of the joke was not to be befooled, and never moved a muscle. Then there was Scott's old favourite at Ashestiel, equally at home in human speech. The day came when he could not follow his master in his rides, and his rheumatic limbs compelled him to keep the hearthrug. Towards the dinner-hour, the butler would come into the room and say, "Camp, my man, the sheriff's coming home by the hill or by the river," as the case might be. Then the old fellow pulled himself together, and tottered out to the back or front of the house to welcome his master.
Well-bred dogs are extraordinarily sensitive to ridicule. Some of them carry self-respect to excess, and are apt to spoil pleasant company by absurd suspicion. They take an accidental laugh, if you chance to catch their eye, as a personal insult, and if you condescend to apology by way of smoothing matters over, it takes no end of petting to reassure them. When these self-conscious animals are taken in a fault, or are guilty of any breach of good manners, the means of sharp punishment are ready to your hand. The laugh falls like a dog-whip, and the smile stings like a switch. Self-consciousness shows in another way. Dogs of a certain age feel that they have their dignity to support; all the same they are still game for frolics, even when their limbs begin to stiffen. Scott tells how his magnificent deer-hound Maida, when taken out for a ramble with the rest of his canine following, would be betrayed into undignified gambols by the playful advances of his small friends. They would go galloping in mad circles, snapping and rolling over each other; then of a sudden Maida would recollect himself, and assume a chilling solemnity of demeanour. " Ha' done, youngsters," he would say, with a twinkle out of the corner of his eye ; "don't you see the sheriff is looking ? " So when I have been sitting immersed in a book, I have heard a scrambling and scraping on the carpet. An asthmatic veteran, with a leg and a half in the grave, is furiously worrying a grandson of his own, who enters with such spirit into the sport that he is shamming exhaustion and speedy dissolution. In my amusement, I forget to sham unobservant, and the game is broken off, to the surprise and disgust of the young one who fails to grasp the situation. All dogs are born actors, though of course they improve with experience and practice. When preparing to romp, they always try to look more preternaturally solemn, though in the prospect of the impending fun, the laughter will bubble up.
Honest dogs only go in for acting by way of diversion, but those who have been badly brought up, or bred on short commons in the gutters, cultivate hypocrisy as a fine art. The scamps who hang about street corners and live by their wits, have brought the dogs they keep to high perfection. I have been told by a gentleman who sold sausages and mutton pies at a stall in Whitechapel, that the boys were a bother to him, but the dogs were far worse. He always knew that boys meant mischief, and was on the outlook, but there was no dodging the dogs. One hardened criminal, a cross-bred bull-terrier, would sneak up under the stall, wagging his tail, a picture of indifference, then when he saw his opportunity, make a spring and a snatch. With dogs like these, of course, a respectable boy has nothing to do, but his own friends of honourable descent and unexceptionable training may let him in when he least expects it. I have told my terriers that they must stay at home, and they quite understood. Their disappointment, as they sneaked back into the house, apparently renouncing all hope of the expected walk, has so touched me that I have felt inclined to give up the engagement. The little humbugs were laughing at me all the time. An hour afterwards, in the gay crowd at a garden party, they were creeping, shamefaced, out of the shrubs, knowing that I could not punch their heads in the circumstances, and from experience of weakness in the past, hoping for a free pardon.
Dogs are sociable, and the most aristocratic in their habits and tastes will on occasion take up with low acquaintances. I don't take any exception to that, for I daresay an ungainly cur may have many good qualities and be a pleasant companion. What I dislike is, that the aristocrat who enjoys his humble friend's company on the sly will cut him dead on occasion, in the most shameless fashion. I knew a silken-coated Sussex spaniel, a lady's pet, who got bored to death with long carriage-drives and short strolls in the garden. The surly mastiff chained in the stable-yard would have nothing to say to him, and there was no other dog about the place. A rat-catcher was engaged for a few days, and the arrival of his scratch pack sent Fido into exuberant spirits. It was pleasant to see him inciting them to gambols about the flower-beds, knocking the carnations about, and turning somersaults in beds of pansies. Naturally when she went out with her mistress, her poor friends came at her with a rush, and her embarrassment would have been pitiable if it had not been so contemptible. It was the other dogs one was sorry for; accustomed to hard knocks, they were naturally modest, but I did not envy Fido his feelings when she met their reproachful glances, as, bewildered and taken aback, they humbly tucked their tails between their legs. Now my Scotch terriers are of more sterling metal. The butcher's dog, a squat bull-terrier, with a dash of the collie, comes every morning for orders, and they often ask him to stay. They bring him on to the terrace before the windows, and do their best to entertain the guest. They make no secret of the intimacy, but keep it within certain bounds. They acknowledge him, rubbing noses in the fashion of the South Sea Islanders, when he comes up, wagging his stump of a tail as we pass through the village street. But they have taught him never to presume, and he knows better now than to join company, as he would do very gladly. When he tried it on, refusing to take a hint, after a glitter of teeth and some show of savage fighting, he was rolled ignominiously into a ditch. Now they are as good friends as before, but he understands his place and keeps it.