It’s a Dog-Gone STRANGE WORLD! (Jul, 1950)
This is one of the longest articles I’ve ever seen in Mechanix Illustrated.
It’s a Dog-Gone STRANGE WORLD!
Here are some of the darnedest breeds of dogs you ever saw. They do everything from diving for fish to rooting up the fabulous truffle.
By Douglas Kennedy
THE fisherman teetered dangerously-on the slippery rock out in the surf. He had just latched onto a 30-pound bass. But in all the excitement of hooking the big fish he had gotten his line fouled up and nearly plunged headlong into the chilly sea.
As he struggled for a footing, he yelled for his dog on the shore. The animal dashed into the water and dived under the surface. A moment later he came up with the escaping bass flopping helplessly in his jaws. Quickly the dog swam back and deposited his catch up on the beach, then helped tow his master safely ashore.
The wonderful pooch that landed both the fish and the fisherman with hardly a scratch never received any hero’s medal for his amazing feat. He was merely doing what was expected of his strange breed after generations of service as the fisher- man’s friend. Though the Cao d’Agua, or Portuguese Water Dog, is one of 111 purebred dogs officially recognized by the American Kennel Club, he’s still practically unknown outside of his native country.
Fishermen in Portugal would be literally lost without their faithful Caos. Not only do they dive for fish and save many fishermen’s lives, but also they retrieve nets, oars and tackle that have been dropped overboard at sea. They act as couriers between boats or fleets and sometimes swim great distances to the mainland to carry messages back to the home port.
Even in Portugal there aren’t enough water dogs for every individual fisherman to own one. So, the crew of a fishing boat or the masters of an entire fleet may share a single highly prized pet co-operatively. A mariner who has his own Cao d’Agua usually keeps up his income when he retires by renting out his dog during the day.
A good Cao stands about 20 inches high at the shoulder and weighs 45 pounds. His four-inch coat, which may be white, black or gray, comes in two styles, long-haired and curly. But in summer his loins are clipped close with just a tuft left on his long tail to act as a rudder.
Once in a while there are authentic cases of fishing dogs reported from other corners of the world. In Newfoundland a naturalist observed a playful setter pointing a school of fish that were running close ashore around a projecting rock. Suddenly the dog lunged into the shallow water, flipped out a fish and danced about on the bank with his prize. Then he dropped it and repeated the stunt with another fish. When none came near, he dabbled a white paw im- patiently in the water as if to lure the school closer. Apparently the dog was fishing just for the fun of it, since he never tried to eat any of the 50 fish he caught. At Rutiaro, a coral atoll in the South Pacific, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff, the famed authors of Mutiny On The Bounty, saw a pack of hungry Rutiaroan dogs catching fish by “leaping toward the shore all together with a porpoise-like curving of their bodies . . . quick as a flock of terns to see and seize their prey.” But only the remarkable Portuguese Cao devotes its full life to deep-water fishing and truly merits the name “sea-dog.”
You don’t have to sail off to the South Seas or take a trip to Europe to turn up the darnedest breeds of dogs. The latest canine census shows there are more than 22,000,000 of man’s best friends right in this country. Some 20,500,000 have plenty of personality but are classified as MB’s (mixed breeds)—or just plain dogs. All the others are registered in the stud books as pedigreed aristocrats.
But some of these fancy Fidos are odder than any character you’ve ever stumbled over in a dark alley. Yet all those rare creatures were originally bred for a purpose and are often as useful as they are startling.
Suppose, for instance, you live in an apartment house. The walls are very thin and the slightest bark makes a racket about which neighbors will complain. Your wife’s crazy about cats—but dogs, eeeek! She says they can’t keep themselves clean, smell bad and disturb her and everybody else in the house with their silly yap-ity-yap. So, you like to hunt and still want a dog?
What do you do—get a new apartment or a new wife? No—just relax. There’s a pooch specially designed for your problem. He’s the little terrier-sized Basenji, the African hunting dog that cleans his silky hair like a cat till he gleams as bright in the sun as a burnished copper kettle. He has no odor at all and won’t bark—because he can’t. Mrs. Alexander Phemister of Kingston, Massachusetts, who has raised more than 100 Basenjis, says this unique hound merely “gives a delightful chortle when he is particularly happy—a sound that is most pleasing and one that no other breed makes.”
The Basenji has a wrinkled brow that makes him look constantly worried and frustrated. But a dog of his talents need never worry. He is extremely’ intelligent and has a terrific hunting instinct. Natives of Central Africa use him to point, retrieve and stalk small game where silence is essential. Pictures of his ancestors, carved in rock in ancient Egypt, date back 5000 years.
Today the natives value him so highly that he is worth 20 spears in the Belgian Congo, where he migrated after the decline of Egypt. The Africans call him M’bwa m’kubwa M’bwa mamwitu—”the jumping up and down dog.” That’s because when he hunts in the tall elephant grass he jumps in the air in order to see around him.
Mrs. Phemister and other Americans lucky enough to own Basenjis like to boast about their loyalty, intelligence and friendliness. They want to play all the time and make wonderful companions for young children. But for a grownup their eagerness for play sometimes can be a bit distracting when you must concentrate on serious work around the home.
One new owner recently bragged that his Basie worked out an amusing appeal for play. He put a forepaw behind his ear, then brushed it down over his face in a sly, appealing gesture. He kept up this act for as much as an hour at a time until he finally got a playmate. The proud owner was really surprised when he learned that his pet’s intriguing little brushoff was simply a typical trait of all Basenjis—just as nuzzling for attention is characteristic of the cocker-spaniel breed.
How are the wolves out your way? Or are the coyotes just getting too cute for comfort?
Get yourself a Grew—or, as they now call this great shaggy-haired gazehound, a Scottish Deerhound. You can’t use him for pulling down deer in this country—it’s against the law. But ranchers out West think he’s fine for running down marauding wolves and coyotes. He hunts by sight and doesn’t have much of a nose for trailing. With his long, bounding strides, though, he can catch almost any game that runs—including the fleet jack-rabbit.
Ever had trouble getting your sheep to traipse along to a proper pasture or come in out of the rain? You have? Well, here’s just the word you’ve been waiting for: Puli—or Pulik, if you want to be plural about it. The Puli is a comparatively new breed in this country. But back on the plains of his native Hungary he’s been specializing in sheep-herding problems since the ninth century when he first showed up in Europe with the invading warriors from Asia. He’s still so nomadic that his master often makes him wear hoops or attaches logs of wood to his collar to discourage him from straying. His long, woolly coat makes him look like a much bulkier dog than he actually is, a 30-pounder about 15 inches high at the shoulder.
Pulik are so esteemed in Hungary that once a month police check to see their masters are really treating them in proper style. A careless owner is liable to lose his dog and incur a fine for his neglect.
The Puli naturally is a wonderful herder. He keeps his charges strictly in line and makes them do what he wants by running over their backs and nipping any rambunctious ram or flock-stalling ewe. His footwork in handling a herd is the most dazzling dance act since Gentleman Jim Corbett waltzed old John L. Sullivan into dreamland. But his real stopper is the stunt he pulls when any sheep gets silly enough to try to run away from this four-legged drill sergeant. Instead of yapping away at the runaway’s feet, as any other good sheepdog would do, the Puli bounds up on the stray’s back, digs his claws into the wool and jockeys the sheep like Eddie Arcaro booting home a Kentucky Derby winner. The animal soon thinks better of that break for freedom and stops dead in his tracks. Then the hard-riding dog jumps down and gently drives the exhausted stray back to the flock— a wearier but far wiser little lamb in obeying the Puli’s next warning nip.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture has been experimenting with the breed at its Beltsville, Maryland, training school, with an eye to introducing the Puli in rural America as a better farmdog. Not only is he affectionate and a fine guardian for both home and kids, but unlike most dogs on our farms, he doesn’t chase chickens or heckle the livestock. He apparently thrives in practically any environment, too—whether a blizzard-blown prairie, a million-dollar mansion or just a bleak cold-water flat.
The Komondor is another fascinating Hungarian sheepdog. Like the Puli, two of them are called Komondorok. He, too, has a strange way of herding sheep. He nips heels just as do all other canine herders except the Puli —but he also acts as his own fifth column. He infiltrates the herd because he looks so much like the animals he’s guiding and guarding. He is all white and grows to immense size, 30 inches at the shoulder and over 100 pounds. But with his wildly tangled woolly coat that looks like a Mexican Hairless’ nightmare you might call him just a big “woof” in sheep’s clothing.
One of the oldest purebreds in the world, his ancestry also traces back more than 1000 years to an obscure origin in Tibet, from whence he came to the steppes of Russia. Later the Huns brought him into Central Europe.
The huge, primitive dog left his mark in Russia where the Owtcharka resides. This monstrous dog, which often stands three feet at the shoulders and tips the scales along with middleweight boxers at 160 pounds, has to be that big.
The animal not only is called on to fight off wolves but also is expected to scare away those big Russian bears.
But this rugged edition of man’s best friend also doubles as his worst enemy. His primary duty in Russia today is guarding entrances (and exits) of labor camps and factories. He also keeps people in line in the salt mines of Siberia and the uranium mines of Czechoslovakia.
The Iron Curtain has fallen on this dog now. A few showed up in Scotland 200 years ago and were crossed with Bearded Collies to produce the present Old English Sheepdog, the big ones with the rag-mop faces.
Now let’s run around the world a bit and look at the problem of the poor millionaire who loves fine food and must have his hard-to-get truffles with every meal.
First, just what are these fancy truffles? Well, they are a little like small mushrooms except that they grow 3 to 12 inches below the surface. Rich people pay fabulous prices for these rare delicacies.
The old business of supply and demand got to working on this problem about 300 years ago. The French tried to solve it by training pigs to truffle. But the pigs, being piggish, forgot all their training and ate them almost as fast as they rooted the fancy fungi out of the ground. The English, being a little more practical, decided to use dogs. Unfortunately, they found that the abundant game distracted the dogs from their pastime. The problem was solved by generations of breeding, using Spanish poodles as the main stock.
Today, what with income tax and socialization, only one professional truffle hunter still survives in England—Alfred Collins, of Wiltshire. But the truffle dog, through 300 years of intensive breeding (250 in the Collins family alone), is now a distinctive type of dog. He can spot a truffle by smell alone at 70 yards! Naturally, he ignores all the other game in pursuit of his costly underground quarry. The dogs have been allowed to hunt truffles in hallowed game sanctuaries!
Even the sacred Dalai Lama of Tibet has problems, too—though not always like yours or mine. One of his persistent worries is how to stay alive in the midst of court intrigue. That’s despite the fact, of course, he is never supposed to die—and doesn’t, according to the reincarnation belief in his country.
Since the beginning of the Manchu dynasty in China in 1583 and extending to 1908, the Dalai Lama has had the problem of giving presents to his princely neighbor. He finally settled on a dog, a Lhasa Apso, known in Tibet as Abso Seng Kye or “Bark Sentinel Lion Dog.” They are little dogs, about ten inches high at the shoulder, with long woolly hair that extends right to the ground and practically hides their faces so that one end of the Apso looks almost like the other. They are revered in Tibet as sacred “indoor sentinels” for the ruling families of the land. (The “outdoor sentinels” are giant Tibetan mastiffs that look as good-natured as your neighbor’s Rover but are justly feared as the world’s fiercest dog.) A Tibetan will never sell his Apso but will offer him as a gift in return for the saving of a life or some similar service. That’s how they finally got to England after an explorer saved a native’s life.
An American explorer, C. Suydam Cutting, who met the Dalai Lama and sent him such wonders as a cuckoo clock, a Lucite bowl and a sun chair, recently received by plane at Idlewild Airport a pair of these rare Tibetan dogs as a gift from the Lama. A few months before, Champion Hamilton Sandour, another Lhasa Apso gift valued at $5000, created a stir by jumping out of Cutting’s car at his Hamilton Farms estate near Peapack-Gladstone, New Jersey, and hiding away in the countryside for three weeks. He has fully recovered from his wild life, however, and now appears willing enough to settle down to a more civ- ilized existence with the two cream-colored newcomers from his native land.
Ever hear of the tolling dog? He’s no $5000 Fido and even his most rabid fancier wouldn’t boast of anything sacred about his ancestry. But, to his Nova Scotian master, he’s a real treasure.
The word “toll” means to lure. In England and France, sporting dogs of various kinds were used to toll or lure waterfowl into large, funnel-shaped nets where the hunters could capture the birds alive. Most often the sportsmen placed the net at the mouth of a stream emptying into a larger bay of water.
The specially trained toller then ran up and down the bank of the stream. Ducks, being not too bright and much too curious, swam in close to see what was cutting up all that commotion along the shore. The dog kept racing back and forth in ever shorter runs till finally the dumb ducks let their curiosity get the better of them and paddled right into the net.
To anybody who’s had to huddle for hours in a cold duck blind only to find every last bird ‘way beyond range, the tolling dog sounds like a frustrated hunter’s fanciful pipedream. But take a trip up to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and you can see Vincent Potier’s dogs just tolling away like crazy. The biggest raiser and trainer of tollers, Potier breeds them to look like a red fox in color, coat and size. After finding ducks on a body of water, he hides along the shore and has a tolling dog chase up and down the bank next to him in a 60-foot run. As he runs, he gives out a sharp, foxy bark. Soon the ducks start crowding in close to get a better look at this strange, noisy creature and flock within easy gun range.
Potier thinks that the ducks must mistake the tolling dog for a fox and throw away caution in the belief that this fox has nothing to do with man. The real fox, incidentally, actually uses the same routine to catch himself a fresh duck breakfast. Maybe those ducks just never learn the score.
The world’s canine citizens vary in size from the one-pound Chihuahua (a type so tiny that Madame Adelina Patti, the singer, found one hidden in the fresh bouquet of flowers presented to her after her farewell performance in Mexico City) to burly Irish Wolfhounds taller than Shetland ponies and heavyweight St. Bernards hitting the 200-pound mark on the scales. Some literally live in the lap of luxury as the pampered toys of lovely ladies. Others have to tote that pack, haul that cart—or, like the poor Pariah dogs in Egypt and the Near East, play the role of public garbage collectors and scavenge all the refuse from the city streets.
They’re pretty peculiar in temperament, too. Mrs. Charles Grillo of Roselle, New Jersey, secretary of the Samoyed Club of America and owner of Champion Noel of Snowland, says this 6000-year-old, wool-growing breed (the Samoyed) is so social and friendly that they love everybody—even the burglar or bill collector who breaks into your home. On the other hand, the driver of a dog team in the Far North dares not stumble in the snow before his Huskies. They would pounce on their master in a flash and tear him apart— with even more relish than the Maricopa Indians in our Southwest, and the primitive Peruvians, who devour the flesh of their dogs.
But don’t get too excited the next time someone calls you a dog. You could do a lot worse than leading some dizzy dog’s life. Take Masterpiece, the $20,000 Toy Poodle, who was frisking around light-heartedly with nearly all the big dogs in Europe while you were sweating out that last heat wave. After a ritzy vacation in France, he was feted at lunch at New York’s swank 21 Club, then sauntered off gaily to his own cocktail party.
With some poor folks going to the dogs, and so many dogs making like fine folks, it’s getting to be a pretty strange dog-gone world! •