The Dog by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson
The dog is a member of society who likes to have his day's work, and who
does it more conscientiously than most human beings. A dog always looks
as if he ought to have a pipe in his mouth and a black bag for his
lunch, and then he would go quite happily to office every day.
A dog without work is like a man without work, a nuisance to himself and
everybody else. People who live about town, and keep a dog to give the
children hydatids and to keep the neighbours awake at night, imagine
that the animal is fulfilling his destiny. All town dogs, fancy dogs,
show dogs, lap-dogs, and other dogs with no work to do, should be
abolished; it is only in the country that a dog has any justification
for his existence.
The old theory that animals have only instinct, not reason, to guide them,
is knocked endways by the dog. A dog can reason as well as a human being
on some subjects, and better on others, and the best reasoning dog of
all is the sheep-dog. The sheep-dog is a professional artist with a
pride in his business. Watch any drover's dogs bringing sheep into the
yards. How thoroughly they feel their responsibility, and how very
annoyed they get if a stray dog with no occupation wants them to stop
and fool about! They snap at him and hurry off, as much as to say: "You
go about your idleness. Don't you see this is my busy day?"
Sheep-dogs are followers of Thomas Carlyle. They hold that the only
happiness for a dog in this life is to find his work and to do it. The
idle, 'dilettante', non-working, aristocratic dog they have no use for.
The training of a sheep-dog for his profession begins at a very early age.
The first thing is to take him out with his mother and let him see her
working. He blunders lightheartedly, frisking along in front of the
horse, and his owner tries to ride over him, and generally succeeds. It
is amusing to see how that knocks all the gas out of a puppy, and with
what a humble air he falls to the rear and glues himself to the horse's
heels, scarcely daring to look to the right or to the left, for fear of
committing some other breach of etiquette.
He has had his first lesson—to keep behind the horse until he is wanted.
Then he watches the old slut work, and is allowed to go with her round
the sheep; and if he shows any disposition to get out of hand and frolic
about, the old lady will bite him sharply to prevent his interfering
with her work.
By degrees, slowly, like any other professional, he learns his business.
He learns to bring sheep after a horse simply at a wave of the hand; to
force the mob up to a gate where they can be counted or drafted; to
follow the scent of lost sheep, and to drive sheep through a town
without any master, one dog going on ahead to block the sheep from
turning off into by-streets while the other drives them on from the
How do they learn all these things? Dogs for show work are taught
painstakingly by men who are skilled in handling them; but, after all,
they teach themselves more than the men teach them. It looks as if the
acquired knowledge of generations were transmitted from dog to dog. The
puppy, descended from a race of sheep-dogs, starts with all his
faculties directed towards the working of sheep; he is half-educated as
soon as he is born. He can no more help working sheep than a born
musician can help being musical, or a Hebrew can help gathering in
shekels. It is bred in him. If he can't get sheep to work, he will work
a fowl; often and often one can see a collie pup painstakingly and
carefully driving a bewildered old hen into a stable, or a stock-yard,
or any other enclosed space on which he has fixed his mind. How does he
learn to do that? He didn't learn it at all. The knowledge was born with
When the dog has been educated, or has educated himself, he enjoys his
work; but very few dogs like work "in the yards". The sun is hot, the
dust rises in clouds, and there is nothing to do but bark, bark,
bark—which is all very well for learners and amateurs, but is beneath
the dignity of the true professional sheep-dog. When they are hoarse
with barking and nearly choked with dust, the men lose their tempers and
swear at them, and throw clods of earth at them, and sing out to them
"Speak up, blast you!"
Then the dogs suddenly decide that they have done enough for the day.
Watching their opportunity, they silently steal over the fence, and hide
in any cool place they can find. After a while the men notice that
hardly any are left, and operations are suspended while a great hunt is
made into outlying pieces of cover, where the dogs are sure to be found
lying low and looking as guilty as so many thieves. A clutch at the
scruff of the neck, a kick in the ribs, and they are hauled out of
hiding-places; and accompany their masters to the yard frolicking about
and pretending that they are quite delighted to be going back, and only
hid in those bushes out of sheer thoughtlessness. He is a champion
hypocrite, is the dog.
Dogs, like horses, have very keen intuition. They know when the men around
them are frightened, though they may not know the cause. In a great
Queensland strike, when the shearers attacked and burnt Dagworth shed,
some rifle-volleys were exchanged. The air was full of human
electricity, each man giving out waves of fear and excitement. Mark now
the effect it had on the dogs. They were not in the fighting; nobody
fired at them, and nobody spoke to them; but every dog left his master,
left the sheep, and went away to the homestead, about six miles off.
There wasn't a dog about the shed next day after the fight. The noise of
the rifles had not frightened them, because they were well-accustomed to
* The same thing happened constantly with horses in the
South African War. A loose horse would feed contentedly
while our men were firing, but when our troops were being
fired at the horses became uneasy, and the loose ones would
trot away. The excitement of the men communicated itself to
Dogs have an amazing sense of responsibility. Sometimes, when there are
sheep to be worked, an old slut who has young puppies may be greatly
exercised in her mind whether she should go out or not. On the one hand,
she does not care about leaving the puppies, on the other, she feels
that she really ought to go rather than allow the sheep to be knocked
about by those learners. Hesitatingly, with many a look behind her, she
trots out after the horses and the other dogs. An impassioned appeal
from the head boundary rider, "Go back home, will yer!" is treated with
the contempt it deserves. She goes out to the yards, works, perhaps half
the day, and then slips quietly under the fences and trots off home,
THE DOG—AS A SPORTSMAN
The sheep-dog and the cattle-dog are the workmen of the animal kingdom;
sporting and fighting dogs are the professionals and artists.
A house-dog or a working-dog will only work for his master; a professional
or artistic dog will work for anybody, so long as he is treated like an
artist. A man going away for a week's shooting can borrow a dog, and the
dog will work for him loyally, just as a good musician will do his best,
though the conductor is strange to him, and the other members of the
band are not up to the mark. The musician's art is sacred to him, and
that is the case with the dog—Art before everything.
It is a grand sight to see a really good setter or pointer working up to a
bird, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to see if the man with the
gun has not lost himself. He throws his whole soul into his work,
questing carefully over the cold scent, feathering eagerly when the bird
is close, and at last drawing up like a statue. Not Paganini himself
ever lost himself in his art more thoroughly than does humble Spot or
Ponto. It is not amusement and not a mere duty to him; it is a sacred
gift, which he is bound to exercise.
A pointer in need of amusement will play with another dog—the pair
pretending to fight, and so on, but when there is work to be done, the
dog is lost in the artist. How crestfallen he looks if by any chance he
blunders on to a bird without pointing it! A fiddler who has played a
wrong note in a solo is the only creature who can look quite so
discomfited. Humanity, instead of going to the ant for wisdom, should
certainly go to the dog.
Sporting dogs are like other artists, in that they are apt to get careless
of everything except their vocation. They are similarly quite unreliable
in their affections. They are not good watch dogs, and take little
interest in chasing cats. They look on a little dog that catches rats
much as a great musician looks on a cricketer—it's clever, but it isn't
Hunting and fighting dogs are the gladiators of the animal world. A
fox-hound or a kangaroo-dog is always of the same opinion as Mr.
Jorrocks:—"All time is wasted what isn't spent in 'untin'."
A greyhound will start out in the morning with three lame legs, but as
soon as he sees a hare start he must go. He utterly forgets his
sorrows in the excitement, just as a rowing-man, all over boils and
blisters, will pull a desperate race without feeling any pain. Such dogs
are not easily excited by anything but a chase, and a burglar might come
and rob the house and murder the inmates without arousing any excitement
among them. Guarding a house is "not their pidgin" as the Chinese say.
That is one great reason for the success of the dog at whatever branch
of his tribe's work he goes in for—he is so thorough. Dogs who are
forced to combine half-a-dozen professions never make a success at
anything. One dog one billet is their motto.
The most earnest and thorough of all the dog tribe is the fighting dog.
His intense self-respect, his horror of brawling, his cool
determination, make him a pattern to humanity. The bull-dog or
bull-terrier is generally the most friendly and best-tempered dog in the
world; but when he is put down in the ring he fights till he drops, in
grim silence, though his feet are bitten through and through, his ears
are in rags, and his neck a hideous mass of wounds.
In a well-conducted dog-fight each dog in turn has to attack the other
dog, and one can see fierce earnestness blazing in the eye of the
attacker as he hurls himself on the foe. What makes him fight like that?
It is not bloodthirstiness, because they are neither savage nor
quarrelsome dogs: a bulldog will go all his life without a fight, unless
put into a ring. It is simply their strong self-respect and stubborn
pride which will not let them give in. The greyhound snaps at his
opponent and then runs for his life, but the fighting dog stands to it
Just occasionally one sees the same type of human being—some quiet-spoken,
good-tempered man who has taken up glove-fighting for a living, and who,
perhaps, gets pitted against a man a shade better than himself. After a
few rounds he knows he is overmatched, but there is something at the
back of his brain that will not let him cave in. Round after round he
stands punishment, and round after round he grimly comes up, till,
possibly, his opponent loses heart, or a fluky hit turns the scale in
his favour. These men are to be found in every class of life. Many of
the gamest of the game are mere gutter-bred boys who will continue to
fight long after they have endured enough punishment to entitle them to
You can see in their eyes the same hard glitter that shows in the
bulldog's eyes as he limps across the ring, or in the eye of the
racehorse as he lies down to it when his opponent is outpacing him. It
is grit, pluck, vim, nerve force; call it what you like, and there is no
created thing that has more of it than the dog.
The blood-lust is a dog-phase that has never been quite understood. Every
station-owner knows that sometimes the house-dogs are liable to take a
sudden fit of sheep-killing. Any kind of dog will do it, from the collie
downward. Sometimes dogs from different homesteads meet in the paddocks,
having apparently arranged the whole affair beforehand. They are very
artful about it, too. They lie round the house till dark, and then slink
off and have a wild night's blood-spree, running down the wretched sheep
and tearing their throats open; before dawn they slink back again and
lie around the house as before. Many and many a sheep-owner has gone out
with a gun and shot his neighbour's dogs for killing sheep which his own
wicked, innocent-looking dogs had slain.