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THE TECHNICAL WORLD MAGAZINE VOL. XV MAY. 1911
DOG TALKS GERMAN
DR. ALFRED GRADEN WITZ
capacities, a few possess of Don, not the
AMBURG, the old sea-faring to the ability of dogs to imitate their town of German merchants, master's speech. Nay, even among the has for some weeks been the canine contemporaries of Don, there temporary home of Don, were not a few possessed of the same
the greatest celebrity in the capacities, no less than twenty to thirty animal kingdom, a prodigy partaking, it rival dogs being quoted, while one lady would seem, of the nature both of man in a letter to the director of the Hamburg and animals, the "speaking" dog that is Zoological Gardens even attributed to puzzling alike the scientific world and the her cat not only the ability to pronounce general public.
whole sentences, but even to sing the When a few months ago faint rumors most popular songs. Again, according about a dog endowed with the gift of to others, seals, walruses and even stags speech, first reported by German papers, would sometimes prove speakers of more gradually spread to America, most peo- or less talent. ple skeptically shook their heads, believ- These exaggerated statements doubting it an open mystification or an effect less were quite as wrong as the utter of self-delusion. When, however, the skepticism shown in the beginning. Don's most distinguished men of science case is both authentic and unique and showed their interest in that wondrous whatever reports on other “speaking” dog by a thorough investigation of his dogs may be current should be put down capacities, doubt was no longer permis- to effects of imagination. There may be sible and the veracity of the report had other dogs capable of imitating one or to be conceded. As so frequently happens two words, very much in the fashion of in such cases, those who in the beginning parrots, as a purely mechanical repetition had been the most perfect skeptics now of sounds to which no meaning is atwent to the extremity of asserting that tached. Don, however, does speak, after all, there was nothing wonderful in and is the only animal so far proved to the matter, cases of speaking dogs hav- do so. ing been on record for nearly 2,000 years Speech to him is the expression of an and that Pliny, the famous naturalist of inward impulse to communicate with his Roman antiquity, and, in more recent master and other persons, showing them times, the philosopher Leibniz Perty, a his affection or requesting the fulfillment distinguished philologist, had all referred of some wish. When quite young, he
already gave evidence of exceptional in- terest. It may be remarked, in passing, telligence and a number of remarkable that the word “haben” is one of the first feats are told of these early days. He acquired by German infants, thanks to never underwent any training, apart from the instinct of imitation innate in man. his hunting drill. Speech like his other All the dog-wonder learned in after-life accomplishments developed quite spon- he did under the impulse of the same taneously and without any outward com- instinct, training being only resorted to pulsion. In fact, everything about this from time to time. This is why the dog marvelous dog is spontaneous. When in produces that wonderful impression of a good spirits, he may begin talking of his strong individuality, doing everything own accord; should there be, however, out of his own free will and, it seems, the slightest reason for dissatisfaction, he without any outside compulsion. will not utter a word and nothing will His ways and manners, by-the-bye, have make him show his speaking capacities. always been remarkably independent. In
At the age of six months, very much his master's house at Theerhütte, in the earlier than a human baby, he for the midst of the royal hunting grounds, he first time showed his extraordinary gift would lead a life of nearly absolute libby pronouncing the first articulate word. erty, apart from his professional duties He was standing near the table, looking as setter-hound. Every day he would set with begging eyes at his master and out for a solitary morning walk, strolling when the latter happened to ask him: through the heath and woods, and pay“Would you like to have something?" he ing an occasional call to one or other of clearly replied: "Haben” (“have"). his master's friends. After opening the After this startling performance, he ob- door himself, drawing back the latch in viously became the object of unusual in- strictly human fashion, he would walk
in, lie down comfortably at the fire-side exhibiting the dog in public. In order and, if in good spirits, have a little talk to protect him against the many amateurs with the inmates of the house. School who soon found their way to Theerchildren met on the road he would ac- hütte, the dog had for some time to be cost, requesting a share in their breakfast kept in perfect seclusion. Mr. Ebers by the words “hunger" or "kuchen having eventually accepted the offer of haben” (“have cake”). It is told of him an enterprising firm of Hamburg merthat on once meeting an old woman from chants to finance the dog and to prepare the neighboring village on her way to him for public exhibition, Don was then the market, he quietly stepped towards taken to Hamburg where his old friend her, distinctly pronouncing the words: Dr. Vosseler gladly received him in his “Don hunger, kuchen haben.” The poor house. However, the absolute change in woman was so frightened that she took his mode of life at first exerted an unto a speedy flight, leaving her basket favorable influence on Don, who seemed behind her, in the firm belief that the dog to have lost his admirable powers, so that was possessed of the evil one.
a few weeks had to go by before the Don's master, royal gamekeeper Her- animal was acclimatized to his new surmann Ebers, was at first quite averse roundings. But very soon he not only to any idea of parting with his dog and recovered his old capacities but even agreeing to his exhibition before stran- showed his ability of extending his gers. In fact, during the first seven knowledge by acquiring a few more years of Don's life, no rumor of his ex- words; he is in the best of health and traordinary capacities ever reached the well prepared to start for his artistic world at large, and but for Mr. Haber- tournée. So far from exhibiting his art land, a journalist who is to be Mr. Ebers' at the ordinary music halls, he will howson-in-law, the dog might have finished ever be shown in more select surroundhis days quietly in that out-of-the-way ings, namely at the zoological gardens place, without ever knowing the joys of of the various towns. celebrity. The most wonderful thing As soon as the American daily papers about him is his talking with strangers published the first report about Don, the quite as freely as with his own master. editors of the TECHNICAL WORLD MAGAWhen therefore Dr. Pfungst, the well- ZINE manifested their desire to place beknown expert in the psychology of ani- fore their readers the first authentic mals, and Dr. Vosseler, Director of the illustrated story on the dog by entrustHamburg Zoological Gardens, wished to ing the present writer with the honorable submit Don to scientific tests, they had mission of going to Hamburg and interno difficulty whatever in making him viewing, as it were, the dog wonder. pronounce every word of his repertoire. However, bad luck would have it that The phonographic records made on this there was no end of obstacles, the finanoccasion prove beyond doubt the identity cial representatives of Don being intent of Don's speech with that of human upon keeping him aloof from any pubbeings. There are, it is true, some slight licity and even preventing the reproducdifferences in pronunciation due to dif- tion of any picture so long as the critical ferences in the structure of the larynx, transitory stage just referred to was not but these in no way detract from the dis- concluded. As moreover Drs. Pfungst tinctness of the words. A strange im- and Vosseler had not yet announced the pression is produced by comparison be- results of their work, no information tween phonographic records of human could be obtained from those quarters. and canine speech; as in fact the dog I was near giving up any hope of ever speaks so very much louder than man, succeeding in the task when an unexthe two voices seem to have exchanged pected invitation to the first exhibition their respective roles.
before a limited circle of Hamburg jourAfter the authenticity of the speaking nalists at Dr. Vosseler's house reached dog had thus been certified by some of me. As this performance was to take the foremost scientific experts, many place the following day, no time was to tempting offers were made to the for- be lost and I at once took the Hamburg tunate master by those desirous of express. It being interesting to ascertain how far the knowledge of Don's ability to imitate human speech, some of capacities had penetrated among the them singing even songs with words, in general public, I whiled away the dull- spite of the absolute diversity of their ness of the railway journey by suggest- larynx from the human organ of speech. ing to some of my fellow-travelers the In the case of mammalia, this ability subject of the speaking dog and was is no doubt an absolute exception, though only half-surprised on discovering that the larynx and other acoustic organs nobody ever seemed to have heard of are so very much more closely related such a prodigy, my account being re- to those of men. In fact, the organizaceived with interest mingled with a slight tion of a dog's larynx in some respects is dose of sarcastic skepticism.
even more favorable than that of man. Once arrived at Hamburg I had As it is, Don is an absolute prodigy and barely time to announce my visit by tele- the first case on record of a dog not only phone and to take a cab to the Zoolog- pronouncing some words, but even atical Gardens. In fact, when reaching taching a meaning to them and making the director's house, I found that the a frequent use of his powers in satisfyséance had just begun, Dr. Vosseler ing his daily wants and showing his athaving said the first introductory words tachment to persons of his surroundings. of an interesting lecture in which the He is more or less talkative according to speaking problem in animals generally circumstances. If in low spirits, as after and in dogs more particularly was treated a punishment, he absolutely refuses to from a scientific point of view. He drew speak and the same effect is produced attention to the fact that some birds, such by bodily indisposition. In bad weather as parrots and the species belonging to he is less inclined to speak than in good the raven family, possess a remarkable weather. Moreover, it is readily seen
that speaking involves a considerable The next question was: “What is it you fatigue to the dog who after some re- have?" which the dog answered with peated exercises always is tired to some the word: "Hunger," the second syllable extent. Though the formation of vowels lagging somewhat behind the first, and consonants does not always occur though with a distinct articulation according to the same principles as in of the “r.” After having next been the human organ of speech, his pro- asked: “Do you want anything ?” he nunciation is quite clear and even to un- most eagerly shouted, “Haben, haben," skilled ears, frequently of an absolutely which word, like some humans, he aphuman distinctness.
parently prefers to all others. On being While the doctor thus was delivering then shown a piece of meat, he his learned discourse, the dog did not spontaneously pronounced the word: seem to attach any particular interest to "Kuchen," the difficult letters k and the his words. The guests were seated to guttural ch being clearly audible. To the right and left of the door, the interval certain questions he also replies “ja” and being reserved for the dog and his mis- "nein" ("yes" and "no") and his most tress, Mr. Ebers' daughter, a slender recent acquisition of which he seems to young lady who all the time seemed busy be especially proud is the trisyllabic word keeping up Don's good spirits.
"Haberland," the name of Miss Ebers' When I entered the room and took fiancé, to whom he is indebted for his my seat in one of the front rows, Don present celebrity. immediately rose from his place at Miss T here seems to be no drill in Don's Ebers' feet and came to welcome me, demeanor, a free son of the heath he is nestling himself up to my knees and and will remain all his life. There are wagging his tail as though he wished to still many years of a promising artistic show his appreciation of and gratitude career before him during which he will for the honor done him in coming all the no doubt perfect his present knowledge way from Berlin with no other purpose of the German language by acquiring a than making his acquaintance. I was number of new words. But never will he not a little proud of this token of sym- become like the trained dogs shown in pathy, though I soon found out that I music halls which, under the absolute sughad to share the distinction with some gestion of their masters, will completely other gentlemen with whom the dog tried lose their own personality, doing everyto make friends. His extraordinarily thing at command and mechanically. determined and self-confident nature With him all is conscious; he seems to also asserted itself in the independent know the meaning of his words and the way he strolled about the room, stop- effect they are to produce on his human ping here and there with some congenial fellow-beings and he obviously is glad person and then returning to his mistress of their sympathy and applause. There feet.
is something good-natured about him Don is a beautiful brown hound of which immediately wins the hearts of strong build and remarkably intelligent those he comes in contact with and he eyes. In fact, there is something almost leaves in everybody the impression of a human in his look, and his movements superior intelligence. and manners also remind, in some re Though Don's vocabulary so far only spects, of his apparently intermediate po- comprises nine words, this does not comsition between dog and man.
pare unfavorably with the 150 words masWhen Dr. Vosseler had ended his tered by the natives of Australia and the speech, there began the performance to 200 words a person of the most elewhich all those present had looked for mentary education is said generally to ward with eager expectation. A plate with use even in the most civilized countries. some meat—all dainty bits are "kuchen” If the gift of speech in that dog could (cake) to Don—was produced. He was be driven so far as even to become an first asked his name, to which he prompt- expression of his feelings, what interestly replied, “Don,” with a clear, deep voice ing things would he not be able to tell and a characteristic inflection of the word. concerning his views on man?