Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Business of Talking Dogs

Back in 1910, the New York Times reported on a talking dog by the name of Don whose prominence was such that he competed head-to-head with Houdini the Handcuff King (see ad at bottom):

Berlin – The scientific sensation of the hour in Germany is the talking dog Don, a dark-brown setter belonging to a royal gamekeeper named Ebers at Thiershütte, near Hamburg. Don promises to become as celebrated an attraction as the horse Clever Hans, which startled the sociological savants of Europe eight years ago with his alleged mathematical feats.

Karl Hagenback, the world-famed animal dealer, has offered Don’s master $2,500 for the privilege of exhibiting the dog in the Hagenback outdoor menagerie at Hamburg. The dog’s vocabulary, it is said, already embraces six words.

His alleged elocutionary powers came to light early this week as the result of reports from the United States that Prof. Alexander Graham Bell had succeeded in teaching a terrier to speak. It was declared that Germany not only possessed a dog with similar gifts but a dog which had been talking for five years, in fact, ever since he was six months old.

The story was first considered a joke, but Thiershütte all the week has been the Mecca of interested inquirers, who have come away convinced that Don is a genuine canine wonder. His callers included a number of newspaper men, who went to Thiershütte to interview the dog. The gamekeeper, Ebers, affirms that the dog began talking in 1905 without training of any kind. According to his owner, the animal sauntered up one day to the table where the family were eating, and, when his master asked, ‘You want something, don’t you?’ the dog stupefied the family by replying in a deep, masculine tone, ‘Haben, haben,’ (‘Want, want’). The tone was not a bark or growl, it is declared, but distinct speech, and increased in plainness from day to day as his master took more interest in the dog’s newly discovered talent.

Shortly afterward, the story goes, the dog learned to say ‘Hunger’ when asked what he had. Then he was taught to say ‘Küchen,’ (cakes) and finally ‘Ja’ and ‘Nein.’ And it is added that he is now able to string several of these words together in sensible rotation and will say ‘Hunger, I want cakes,’ when an appropriate question is addressed to him.

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