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THE TECHNICAL WORLD MAGAZINE
VOL. XV MAY. 1911 NO. 3
DOG TALKS GERMAN
DR. ALFRED GRADENWITZ
HAMBURG, the old sea-faring town of German merchants, has for some weeks been the temporary home of Don, the greatest celebrity in the animal kingdom, a prodigy partaking, it would seem, of the nature both of man and animals, the "speaking" dog that is puzzling alike the scientific world and the general public.
When a few months ago faint rumors about a dog endowed with the gift of speech, first reported by German papers, gradually spread to America, most people skeptically shook their heads, believing it an open mystification or an effect of self-delusion. When, however, the most distinguished men of science showed their interest in that wondrous dog by a thorough investigation of his capacities, doubt was no longer permissible and the veracity of the report had to be conceded. As so frequently happens in such cases, those who in the beginning had been the most perfect skeptics now went to the extremity of asserting that after all, there was nothing wonderful in the matter, cases of speaking dogs having been on record for nearly 2,000 years and that Pliny, the famous naturalist of Roman antiquity, and, in more recent times, the philosopher Leibniz Perty, a distinguished philologist, had all referred
to the ability of dogs to imitate their master's speech. Nay, even among the canine contemporaries of Don, there were not a few possessed of the same capacities, no less than twenty to thirty rival dogs being quoted, while one lady in a letter to the director of the Hamburg Zoological Gardens even attributed to her cat not only the ability to pronounce whole sentences, but even to sing the most popular songs. Again, according to others, seals, walruses and even stags would sometimes prove speakers of more or less talent.
These exaggerated statements doubtless were quite as wrong as the utter skepticism shown in the beginning. Don's case is both authentic and unique and whatever reports on other "speaking" dogs may be current should be put down to effects of imagination. There may be other dogs capable of imitating one or two words, very much in the fashion of parrots, as a purely mechanical repetition of sounds to which no meaning is attached. Don, however, does speak, and is the only animal so far proved to do so.
Speech to him is the expression of an inward impulse to communicate with his master and other persons, showing them his affection or requesting the fulfillment of some wish. When quite young, he already gave evidence of exceptional intelligence and a number of remarkable feats are told of these early days. He never underwent any training, apart from his hunting drill. Speech like his other accomplishments developed quite spontaneously and without any outward compulsion. In fact, everything about this marvelous dog is spontaneous. When in good spirits, he may begin talking of his own accord; should there be, however, the slightest reason for dissatisfaction, he will not utter a word and nothing will make him show his speaking capacities.
Copyright. 1911. by Technical World Company.
At the age of six months, very much earlier than a human baby, he for the first time showed his extraordinary gift by pronouncing the first articulate word. He was standing near the table, looking with begging eyes at his master and when the latter happened to ask him: "Would you like to have something?" he clearly replied: "Haben" ("have"). After this startling performance, he obviously became the object of unusual in
terest. It may be remarked, in passing, that the word "haben" is one of the first acquired by German infants, thanks to . the instinct of imitation innate in man. All the dog-wonder learned in after-life he did under the impulse of the same instinct, training being only resorted to from time to time. This is why the dog produces that wonderful impression of a strong individuality, doing everything out of his own free will and, it seems, without any outside compulsion.
His ways and manners, by-the-bye, have always been remarkably independent. In his master's house at Theerhutte, in the midst of the royal hunting grounds, he would lead a life of nearly absolute liberty, apart from his professional duties as setter-hound. Every day he would set out for a solitary morning walk, strolling through the heath and woods, and paying an occasional call to one or other of his master's friends. After opening the door himself, drawing back the latch in strictly human fashion, he would walk in, lie down comfortably at the fire-side and, if in good spirits, have a little talk with the inmates of the house. School children met on the road he would accost, requesting a share in their breakfast by the words "hunger" or "kuchen haben" ("have cake"). It is told of him that on once meeting an old woman from the neighboring village on her way to the market, he quietly stepped towards her, distinctly pronouncing the words: "Don hunger, kuchen haben." The poor woman was so frightened that she took to a speedy flight, leaving her basket behind her, in the firm belief that the dog was possessed of the evil one.
Don's master, royal gamekeeper Hermann Ebers, was at first quite averse to any idea of parting with his dog and agreeing to his exhibition before strangers. In fact, during the first seven years of Don's life, no rumor of his extraordinary capacities ever reached the world at large, and but for Mr. Haberland, a journalist who is to be Mr. Ebers' son-in-law, the dog might have finished his days quietly in that out-of-the-way place, without ever knowing the joys of celebrity. The most wonderful thing about him is his talking with strangers quite as freely as with his own master. When therefore Dr. Pfungst, the wellknown expert in the psychology of animals, and Dr. Vosseler, Director of the Hamburg Zoological Gardens, wished to submit Don to scientific tests, they had no difficulty whatever in making him pronounce every word of his repertoire. The phonographic records made on this occasion prove beyond doubt the identity of Don's speech with that of human beings. There are, it is true, some slight differences in pronunciation due to differences in the structure of the larynx, but these in no way detract from the distinctness of the words. A strange impression is produced by comparison between phonographic records of human and canine speech; as in fact the dog speaks so very much louder than man, the two voices seem to have exchanged their respective roles.
After the authenticity of the speaking dog had thus been certified by some of the foremost scientific experts, many tempting offers were made to the fortunate master by those desirous of
exhibiting the dog in public. In order to protect him against the many amateurs who soon found their way to Theerhutte, the dog had for some time to be kept in perfect seclusion. Mr. Ebers having eventually accepted the offer of an enterprising firm of Hamburg merchants to finance the dog and to prepare him for public exhibition, Don was then taken to Hamburg where his old friend Dr. Vosseler gladly received him in his house. However, the absolute change in his mode of life at first exerted an unfavorable influence on Don, who seemed to have lost his admirable powers, so that a few weeks had to go by before the animal was acclimatized to his new surroundings. But very soon he not only recovered his old capacities but even showed his ability of extending his knowledge by acquiring a few more words; he is in the best of health and well prepared to start for his artistic tournce. So far from exhibiting his art at the ordinary music halls, he will however be shown in more select surroundings, namely at the zoological gardens of the various towns.
As soon as the American daily papers published the first report about Don, the editors of the Technical World MagaZine manifested their desire to place before their readers the first authentic illustrated story on the dog by entrusting the present writer with the honorable mission of going to Hamburg and interviewing, as it were, the dog wonder. However, bad luck would have it that there was no end of obstacles, the financial representatives of Don being intent upon keeping him aloof from any publicity and even preventing the reproduction of any picture so long as the critical transitory stage just referred to was not concluded. As moreover Drs. Pfungst and Vosseler had not yet announced the results of their work, no information could be obtained from those quarters. I was near giving up any hope of ever succeeding in the task when an unexpected invitation to the first exhibition before a limited circle of Hamburg journalists at Dr. Vosseler's house reached me. As this performance was to take place the following day, no time was to be lost and I at once took the Hamburg express. It being interesting to ascertain how far the knowledge of Don's capacities had penetrated among the general public, I whiled away the dullness of the railway journey by suggesting to some of my fellow-travelers the subject of the speaking dog and was only half-surprised on discovering that nobody ever seemed to have heard of such a prodigy, my account being received with interest mingled with a slight dose of sarcastic skepticism.
Once arrived at Hamburg I had barely time to announce my visit by telephone and to take a cab to the Zoological Gardens. In fact, when reaching the director's house, I found that the seance had just begun, Dr. Vosseler having said the first introductory words of an interesting lecture in which the speaking problem in animals generally and in dogs more particularly was treated from a scientific point of view. He drew attention to the fact that some birds, such as parrots and the species belonging to the raven family, possess a remarkable
ability to imitate human speech, some of them singing even songs with words, in spite of the absolute diversity of their larynx from the human organ of speech.
In the case of mammalia, this ability is no doubt an absolute exception, though the larynx and other acoustic organs are so very much more closely related to those of men. In fact, the organization of a dog's larynx in some respects is even more favorable than that of man. As it is, Don is an absolute prodigy and the first case on record of a dog not only pronouncing some words, but even attaching a meaning to them and making a frequent use of his powers in satisfying his daily wants and showing his attachment to persons of his surroundings. He is more or less talkative according to circumstances. If in low spirits, as after a punishment, he absolutely refuses to speak and the same effect is produced by bodily indisposition. In bad weather he is less inclined to speak than in good weather. Moreover, it is readily seen that speaking involves a considerable fatigue to the dog who after some repeated exercises always is tired to some extent. Though the formation of vowels and consonants does not always occur according to the same principles as in the human organ of speech, his pronunciation is quite clear and even to unskilled ears, frequently of an absolutely human distinctness.
While the doctor thus was delivering his learned discourse, the dog did not seem to attach any particular interest to his words. The guests were seated to the right and left of the door, the interval being reserved for the dog and his mistress, Mr. Ebers' daughter, a slender young lady who all the time seemed busy keeping up Don's good spirits.
When I entered the room and took my seat in one of the front rows, Don immediately rose from his place at Miss Ebers' feet and came to welcome me, nestling himself up to my knees and wagging his tail as though he wished to show his appreciation of and gratitude for the honor done him in coming all the way from Berlin with no other purpose than making his acquaintance. I was not a little proud of this token of sympathy, though I soon found out that I had to share the distinction with some other gentlemen with whom the dog tried to make friends. His extraordinarily determined and self-confident nature also asserted itself in the independent way he strolled about the room, stopping here and there with some congenial person and then returning to his mistress' feet.
Don is a beautiful brown hound of strong build and remarkably intelligent eyes. In fact, there is something almost human in his look, and his movements and manners also remind, in some respects, of his apparently intermediate position between dog and man.
When Dr. Vosseler had ended his speech, there began the performance to which all those present had looked forward with eager expectation. A platewith some meat—all dainty bits are "kuchen" (cake) to Don—was produced. He was first a'sked his name, to which he promptly replied, "Don," with a clear, deep voice and a characteristic inflection of the word.
The next question was: "What is it you have?" which the dog answered with the word: "Hunger," the second syllable lagging somewhat behind the first, though with a distinct articulation of the "r." After having next been asked: "Do-you want anything?" he most eagerly shouted, "Haben, haben," which word, like some humans, he apparently prefers to all others. On being then shown a piece of meat, he spontaneously pronounced the word: "Kuchen," the difficult letters k and the guttural ch being clearly audible. To certain questions he also replies "ja" and "nein" ("yes" and "no") and his most recent acquisition of which he seems to be especially proud is the trisyllabic word "Haberland," the name of Miss Ebers' fiance, to whom he is indebted for his present celebrity.
There seems to be no drill in Don's demeanor, a free son of the heath he is and will remain all his life. There are still many years of a promising artistic career before him during which he will no doubt perfect his present knowledge of the German language by acquiring a number of new words. But never will he become like the trained dogs shown in music halls which,under the absolute suggestion of their masters, will completely lose their own personality, doing everything at command and mechanically. With him all is conscious; he seems to know the meaning of his words and the effect they are to produce on his human fellow-beings and he obviously is glad of their sympathy and applause. There is something good-natured about him which immediately wins the hearts of those he comes in contact with and he leaves in everybody the impression of a superior intelligence.
Though Don's vocabulary so far only comprises nine words, this does not compare unfavorably with theLSOwords mastered by the natives of Australia and the 200 words a person of the most elementary education is said generally to use even in the most civilized countries.
If the gift of speech in that dog could be driven so far as even to become an expression of his feelings, what interesting things would he not be able to tell concerning his views on man?