Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Mammals by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Mammals by  Anna Botsford Comstock



Teacher's Story

dropcap image OT only to-day but in ancient days, before the dawn of history, the dog was the companion of man. Whether the wild species from whence he sprang, was wolf or jackal or some other similar animal, we do not know, but we do know that many types of dogs have been tamed independently by savages, in the region where their untamed relatives run wild. As the whelps of wolves, jackals and foxes are all easily tamed, and are most interesting little creatures, we can understand how they became companions to the children of the savage and barbarous peoples who hunted them.

In the earliest records of cave dwellers, in the picture writing of the ancient Egyptians and of other ancient peoples, we find record of the presence and value of the dog. But man, in historical times, has been able to evolve breeds that vary more in form than do the wild species of the present. There are 200 distinct breeds of dogs known to-day, and many of these have been bred for special purposes. The paleontologists, moreover, assure us that there has been a decided advance in the size and quality of the dog's brain since the days of his savagery; thus, he has been the companion of man's civilization also. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that the dog is now the most companionable, and has the most human qualities and intelligence of all our domesticated animals.

Dogs run down their prey; it is a necessity, therefore, that they be equipped with legs that are long, strong and muscular. The cat, which jumps for her prey, has much more delicate legs but has powerful hips to enable her to leap. The dog's feet are much more heavily padded than those of the cat, because in running, he must not stop to save his feet. Hounds often return from a chase with bleeding feet, despite the heavy pads, but the wounds are usually cuts between the toes. The claws are heavy and are not retractile; thus, they afford a protection to the feet when running, and they are also used for digging out game which burrows into the ground. They are not used for grasping prey like those of the cat and are used only incidentally in fighting, while the cat's claws are the most important weapons in her armory. It is an interesting fact that Newfoundland dogs, which are such famous swimmers, have their toes somewhat webbed.

The dog's body is long, lean, and very muscular, a fat dog being usually pampered and old. The coat is of hair and is not of fine fur like that of the cat. It is of interest to note that the Newfoundland dog has an inner coat of fine hair comparable to that of the mink or muskrat. When a dog is running, his body is extended to its fullest length; in fact, it seems to "lie flat," the outstretched legs heightening the effect of extreme muscular effort of forward movement. A dog is master of several gaits; he can run, walk, trot, bound and crawl.



The iris of the dog's eye is usually of a beautiful brown, although this varies with breeds; in puppies, the iris is usually blue. The pupil is round like our own; and dogs cannot see well in the dark like the cat, but in daylight they have keen sight. The nose is so much more efficient than the eyes, that it is on the sense of smell the dog depends for following his prey and for recognizing friend and foe. The damp, soft skin that covers the nose, has in its dampness the conditions for carrying the scent to the wide nostrils; these are situated at the most forward part of the face, and thus may be lifted in any direction to receive the marvelous impressions, so completely beyond our comprehension. Think of being able to scent the track of a fox made several hours previously. Not only to scent it, but to follow by scent for many miles without ever having a glimpse of the fleeing foe! In fact, while running, the dog's attention seems to be focused entirely upon the sense of smell, for I have seen hounds pass within a few rods to the windward of the fox they were chasing, without observing him at all. When the nose of any of the moist-nosed beasts, such as cattle and dogs, becomes dry it is a sign of illness.


Bird Dog

A light fall of damp snow gives the dog the best conditions for following a track by scent and a hound, when on the trail, will run until exhausted. There are many authentic observations which show that hounds have followed a fox for twenty-four hours without food, and probably with little rest.

The dog's weapons for battle, like those of the wolf, are his tushes: with these, he holds and tears his prey; with them, he seizes the woodchuck or other small animal through the back and shakes its life out. In fighting a larger animal, the dog leaps against it and often incidentally tears its flesh with his strong claws; but he does not strike a blow with his foot like the cat, nor can he hold his quarry with it.



Dog's teeth are especially fitted for their work. The incisors are small and sharp; the canine teeth or tushes are very long, but there are bare spaces on the jaws so that they are able to cross past each other; the molar teeth are not fitted for grinding, like the teeth of a cow, but are especially fitted for cutting, as may be noted if we watch the way a dog gnaws bones, first gnawing with the back teeth on one side and then on the other. In fact, a dog does not seem to need to chew anything, but simply needs to cut his meat in small enough pieces so that he can gulp them down without chewing. His powers of digesting unchewed food are something that the hustling American may well envy.

Of all domestic animals, the dog is most humanly understandable in expressing emotions. If delighted, he leaps about giving ecstatic little barks and squeals, his tail in the air and his eyes full of happy anticipation. If he wishes to be friendly, he looks at us interestedly, comes over to smell of us in order to assure himself whether he has ever met us before, and then wags his tail as a sign of good faith. If he wishes to show affection, he leaps upon us and licks our face or hands with his soft, deft tongue and follows us jealously. When he stands at attention, he holds his tail stiff in the air, and looks up with one ear lifted as if to say, "Well, what's doing?" When angry, he growls and shows his teeth and the tail is held rigidly out behind, as if to convince us that it is really a continuation of his backbone. When afraid, he whines and lies flat upon his belly, often looking beseechingly up toward his master as if begging not to be punished; or he crawls away out of sight. When ashamed, he drops his tail between his legs and with drooping head and sidewise glance slinks away. When excited, he barks and every bark expresses high nervous tension.


"Mateo," a St. Bernard of Long Pedigree

Almost all dogs that chase their prey, bark when so doing, which would seem at first sight to be a foolish thing to do, in that it reveals their whereabouts to their victims and also adds an incentive to flight. But it must be borne in mind that dogs are descended from wolves, which naturally hunt in packs and do not stalk their prey. The baying of the hound is a most common example of the habit, and as we listen we can understand how, by following this sound, the pack is kept together. Almost all breeds of dogs have an acute sense of hearing. When a dog bays at the moon or howls when he hears music, it is simply a reversion to the wild habit of howling to call together the pack or in answer "to the music of the pack." It is interesting that our music, which is the flower of our civilization, should awaken the sleeping ancestral traits in the canine breast. But perhaps that, too, is why we respond to music, because it awakens in us the strong, primitive emotions, and, for the time, enables us to free ourselves from all conventional shackles and trammels.




Fox Terrier and Pups

Lesson LXIII


Leading thought—The dog is a domesticated descendant of wolf-like animals and has retained certain of the habits and characteristics of his ancestors.

Method—For the observation lesson it would be well to have at hand, a well-disposed dog which would not object to being handled; a collie or a hound would be preferable. Many of the questions should be given to the pupils to answer from observations at home, and the lesson should be built upon the experience of the pupils with dogs.


1. Why are the legs of the dog long and strong in proportion to the body compared with those of the cat?

2. Compare the feet of the cat with those of the dog and note which has the heavier pads. Why is this of use to each?

3. Which has the stronger and heavier claws, the dog or the cat? Can the dog retract his claws so that they are not visible, as does the cat? Of what use is this arrangement to the dog? Are the front feet just like the hind feet? How many toe impressions show in the track of the dog?

4. What is the general characteristic of the body of the dog? Is it soft like that of the cat, or lean and muscular? What is the difference between the hair covering of the dog and cat? What is the attitude of the dog when running fast? How many kinds of gaits has he?

5. In general, how do the eyes of the dog differ from those of the cat? Does he rely as much upon his eyes for finding his prey as does the cat? Can a dog see in the dark? What is the color of the dog's eyes?

6. Study the ear of the dog; is it covered? Is this outer ear movable, is it a flap, or is it cornucopia shaped? How is this flap used when the dog is listening? Roll a sheet of paper into a flaring tube and place the small end upon your own ear, and note if it helps you to hear better the sounds in the direction toward which the tube opens. Note how the hound lifts his long earlaps, so as to make a tube for conveying sounds to his inner ear. Do you think that dogs can hear well?


"Klondike Jack"

The dog that pulled four hundred fifty pounds five hundred miles through the White Horse Pass in the winter of the first gold excitement.

7. What is the position of the nose in the dog's face? Of what use is this? Describe the nostrils; are they placed on the foremost point of the face? What is the condition of the skin that surrounds them? How does this condition of the nose aid the dog? What other animals have it? Does the dog recognize his friends or become acquainted with strangers by means of his sight or of his powers of smelling?

8. How long after a fox or rabbit has passed can a hound follow the track? Does he follow it by sight or by smell? What are the conditions most favorable for retaining the scent? The most unfavorable? How long will a hound follow a fox trail without stopping for rest or food? Do you think the dog is your superior in ability to smell?

9. How does a dog seize and kill his prey? How does he use his feet and claws when fighting? What are his especially strong weapons? Describe a dog's teeth and explain the reason for the bare spaces on the jaw next to the tushes. Does the dog use his tushes when chewing? What teeth does he use when gnawing a bone? Make a diagram of the arrangement of the dog's teeth.

10. How by action, voice, and especially by the movement of the tail does the dog express the following emotions: Delight, friendliness, affection, attention, anger, fear, shame, excitement? How does he act when chasing his prey? Why do wolves and dogs bark when following the trail? Do you think of a reason why dogs often howl at night or when listening to music? What should we feed to our pet dogs? What should we do to make them comfortable in other ways?


In Pleasant Mood

A collie.

11. Tell or write a story of some dog of which you know by experience or hearsay. Of what use was the dog to the pioneer? How are dogs used in the Arctic regions? In Holland?

12. How many breeds of dogs do you know? Describe characters of such as follows: The length of the legs as compared with the body; the general shape of the body, head, ears, nose; color and character of hair on head, body and tail.

13. Find if you can the reasons which have led to the developing of the following breeds: Newfoundland, St. Bernard, mastiffs, hounds, collies, spaniels, setters, pointers, bulldogs, terriers, and pugs.

Supplementary reading—"Stories of Brave Dogs" from St. Nicholas,  the Century Co.; the following three stories from Thompson-Seton: "Chink" in Lives of the Hunted, "Snap" in Animal Heroes, "Wully" in Wild Animals I Have Known; Bob, Son of Battle; Mack, His Book, by Florence Leigh; Rab and his Friends; The Dog of Flanders; "Red Dog" in Kipling's Jungle Stories; Animals of the World, Knight and Jenks, p. 80; Life of Animals, Ingersoll, p. 187.


Fox hunting, in the Genesee Valley, N. Y.

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