A study in animal character


A WELL-KNOWN naturalist declares that " among animals there is not the same diversity of individual character as among men, nor the same variety; all the individuals of one species are cast pretty much in the same simple mould." It is true that the character of birds and beasts is less complex than that of human beings; nevertheless, among the higher animals there is sufficient complexity of character to allow of very great variation. So far from animals of the same species being cast in the same mould, they often exhibit very marked differences in manners, habits, temperament, and tastes. Just as no two creatures are alike in bodily form, so do no twain exactly resemble one another in temperament.

A stroll in the garden will furnish evidence of this. You come upon a company of "seven sisters" rummaging among dried leaves and picking up unconsidered trifles. The birds are, of course, keeping up a running conversation. Babblers, like Madrassi coolies, can do nothing without singing and shouting. One of the little company catches sight of you and informs his friends of your presence. The more timid of the brotherhood immediately fly off. The rest remain eyeing you suspiciously, and wondering what they shall do. Presently the fright of those which have already betaken themselves, to cover communicates itself to some of the birds which have maintained their ground. Such fly to shelter. You approach nearer. This is the signal for others to take to their wings, and perhaps all have left, except one sturdy fellow, who looks at you in such a way that he seems to say: " I'll be blowed if I move until I am obliged to."

Here, then, we have in this little company of six or seven a number of types of character, ranging from excessive timidity to great temerity. The " seven sisters " do not form an isolated case. Almost every company of birds exhibits a similar phenomenon. We know so little of Nature's wild creatures that our books con┬Čtain no accounts of these distinctions in character. Naturalists are content to describe the typical member of each species; they omit to mention the thousand and one variations from it.

This, doubtless, accounts for the origin of the idea that all animals of a species are cast in the same mould. To take an example, the Indian crow is described as a bold, bad bird, which leads a depraved life of aimless vagabondage. This is doubtless a true description of the typical crow. But there are degrees of wickedness, even among crows. It is possible that some of the corvi lead useful and admirable lives. For aught I know, there may be crow philanthropists, crows which spend their life slumming, holding tea-parties, delivering lectures, and doing other good works.

We catch but fleeting glimpses of wild animals; hence it is not easy to study their idiosyncrasies. Fortunately, there are the domestic animals. These come to our help. Every horse, cat, dog, cow, and fowl has its own little character, which is displayed in its actions. It is to these creatures that we must turn if we should study character among animals.

Two fox-terriers allow me to share the bungalow with them, so that I have an excellent opportunity of observing their idiosyncrasies. They are what the Babu would call he-dogs, and rejoice in the respective names of Tony and Bob, So great is the diversity of character which they exhibit that, after watching them for a few weeks, one feels capable of writing a canine "Sandford and Merton."

The lineage of neither of these dogs is unimpeachable. There are bars sinister on the escutcheon of each. Bob is a stolid, squarely built animal, exhibiting distinct traces of the bull-terrier. He reminds one of a Dutch burgher; he is eminently respectable, although not of prepossessing appearance. Tony is a lanky dog, a canine " daddy-long-legs." He has been allowed to run to seed and has developed into a fragile weed of a hound. He has a pretty face, but his beauty is not patrician; it is, in fact, distinctly plebeian, being that of a glorified pariah dog. His worst enemies could not call him phlegmatic, but they might hint that he is afflicted with St. Vitus's dance.

Bob's character is in keeping with his appearance. There is in it much of sterling merit. He is an austere dog, despising the vain pomp and glory of this world.

He knows what obedience is, although he sometimes acts as if he did not. He is slow to make friends among men, but once made he retains them by faithful devotion. He is not demonstrative in his friendship. He has been known to wag his tail; but he performs this action sedately and decorously, I might say, halfheartedly. He never dreams of wagging the whole posterior end of his body, as some dogs do. He is enthusiastic over nothing, not even his food. You hand him a bone; he accepts it with a blase indifference which is quite refreshing. He has no pretty, winning ways, no mischievous tricks. He is essentially a man's dog.

Tony is what the women-folk call an "affectionate dog" -: this means that he makes friends with every stranger who comes within the gates. The more strange the person, the more pleased is Tony to see him. He is fond of all men, and loves eatables as himself. He is as partial to the kitchen as a schoolboy to the tuck shop. Mischievous, restless, and disobedient, Tony is the canine counterpart of the bad boy whose diary we all read with delight.

Bob, although, unlike the volatile Tony, he does not spend his days in cutting mad capers, in trying to catch his own tail and committing other such frivolities, likes exercise in moderation. He is distinctly fond of shikar, and is quite content to sit half the day under a tree contemplating with eager eyes the squirrels, which are disporting themselves among the branches and openly insulting him. At night, when the squirrels are asleep in their dreys, the musk - rats give him sufficient exercise to keep his body in health.

Tony spends his days in running about like the proverbial March hare. Except when asleep, he is never still. He is not a good sporting dog. His idea of shikar is to chase an aged, inoffensive rooster, or to bait some unfortunate tethered calf.

Bob leads a sober and orderly life. I have never seen him looking dishevelled. Tony, on the other hand, reminds one of the inky-fingered, dirty-collared, tie-less urchin, who habitually plays truant. He cannot enjoy a run in the garden without discovering a dirty puddle. This, in his opinion, requires investigation.

Tony, by the by, investigates everything; he has an inquiring mind. The invariable result of his investigation is that the dirtiest portions of that puddle find themselves transferred to the person of Tony. They are borne off triumphantly, clinging to his paws and body. Tony then proceeds to make the grand tour of the house, leaving behind him footprints, not on the sands of time, but, what comes to much the same thing, on the drawing-room carpet. When thus bespattered with mud, Tony is always more demonstrative than usual. He jumps up at each of his human friends in turn, and, heedless of their remonstrances, proceeds to make their garments as muddy as his own feet.

Bob has not many dog friends. He is naturally reserved ; he makes no advances to his neighbours. His solemn face, muscular frame, and powerful teeth prevent these from forcing themselves upon him. Tony is "hail-fellow, well met" with every Dick, Tom, and Harry of a pariah dog. He draws the line at nothing. No animal is too disreputable-looking, too mangy, too much of a cur to be Tony's friend. The result of this cosmopolitanism is that he and all the bazaar dogs of the neighbourhood are as "thick as thieves." Tony hates Bob with a mighty hatred, and Bob loathes Tony with a great loathing. The consequence is that when the heroes meet there is much growling and gnashing of teeth. For this reason they are not allowed to see much of each other. It is hoped that they will one day settle down to a kind of armed neutrality.

Bombay Ducks; An Account Of Some Of The Every-day Birds And Beasts Found In A Naturalist's Eldorado
Dewar, Douglas. Bombay ducks: an account of some of the every-day birds and beasts found in a naturalist's Eldorado, 1906.
Title in Book: 
A study in animal character
Book Author: 
Douglas Dewar
Page No: 
Common name: 
A Study In Animal Character

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith