This charming story graced the Nature section of the New York Times 132 years ago today. It’s a good example of the sort of culture that has grown around the “dog days” of summer, which we find ourselves in now.
The Collie and the Provost -
About 13 years ago, a now deceased medical man, residing near Edinburgh, possessed a favorite collie, Cheviot by name. The incident I am about to relate I may mention, was related to me by the son of the gentleman in question, both father and son, along with a perfectly disinterested party, having corroborated the facts.
The then Provost of the burgh in which Cheviot resided, had issued an interdict against unmuzzled dogs during the “dog days,” and Cheviot submitted with no good grace to the operation of securing his jaws. Frequently Cheviot’s master and the members of the family spoke, in the dog’s hearing in no measured terms of the cruelty of the Provost’s order.
But the end of the “dog days” came, and “Cheviot’s” muzzle was removed. On the afternoon of the day of liberation, the Provist called on Cheviot’s master, to say that in the morning he had heard a dog whining at his front door. The Provost opened the door; Cheviot was in waiting, his muzzle in his mouth. One look at the Provost, and the muzzle was dropped at his feet, Cheviot scampering off in the highest glee, as if delighted to have had the opportunity of laying the cause of his grievance at the door of his enemy.
The New York Times
July 13, 1879
If his name has anything to do with his origins, our dog Cheviot just might have been a proto-Border Collie. This matches my theory of Queen Victoria’s dog Noble who was identified as a “Collie of the Cheviot Breed” belonging to the founding gene pool of what would in a few decades be called the Border Collie. The Cheviot Hills define the border between England and Scotland that the breed takes its name from.
The description of the dog certainly fits a level of precociousness that has long since left most collies bred for looks but which persists in the Border Collie. The breed remains very attune to human emotion and speech, and their ability to unintentionally learn English is often remarked upon. First you start spelling words until they learn that too. They also learn physical cues easily.
Mine know that when the laptop lid closes, it’s likely we’ll be leaving soon, so they rush to the door; if I inadvertently close the lid but don’t intend on leaving, they give me this “you bastard” look followed by digging up any toy they can find to demand that I at least play some Frisbee or ball in the house to appease them for the false alarm. “Outside,” “park,” “car,” “go,” and “class” are all instant action triggers for this lot; if you make the mistake of naming any of their toys, you’ve signed a verbal contract to play with that toy for at least 20 minutes or they’ll pee on your bed.
My dogs are also very attune to how doors and windows work. They can open the french doors from both the inside (requires turning and pulling the handle) and the outside (turning and pushing), they can open the lower cabinets in the kitchen with their nose, and they can roll down the automatic windows in the car. They are also aware of how the car doors work although they are unable to operate the handle. While I was in Wyoming during the branding, Mercury ran off to explore the ranch twice. The first time he managed to get into a closed 4×4 that had velcro doors that I had driven him around in earlier that morning. Later, while I was off on an open 4×4 looking for him he came back and tried to get into my Jeep. There were paw marks and scratches on the door handle and the paint at the edge of the door. He knew I couldn’t leave without him if he stayed with the car. Next time, I’ll leave the window down and save the paint job.
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