Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs, PART III

Excerpted from “Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs” by Captain Thomas Brown – 1829


On Tuesday, the 20th of August, 1828, Lachlan Maclean, a shepherd, in the service of Mr McMillan, commissary, Isle of Skye, left his home to visit his flocks, but not returning in the course of the day, his family became alarmed for his safety, and this alarm was increased by the return of one of the dogs which he had taken along with him. A search was begun by several persons in the neighbourhood, but Without success, till Sunday afternoon, the 24th, when the body was found in a sequestered place. It appeared from the position in which he was lying, and from one of his arms being bruised, that he had expired in a fit of epilepsy, and that the arm had received its injuries from his struggles in the paroxysm of the disease. One of his dogs remained with the body for three days, during which it was manifest that he had tasted no food.


A shepherd had driven a part of his flock to a neighbouring farm, leaving his dog to watch the remainder during that day and the next night, expecting to revisit them the following morning. Unfortunately, however, when at the fair, the shepherd forgot both his dog and his sheep, and did not return home till the morning of the third day. His first inquiry was, whether his dog had been seen? The answer was, No. “Then he must be dead,” replied the shepherd in a tone of anguish, “for I know he was too faithful to desert his charge.” He instantly repaired to the heath. The dog had sufficient strength remaining to crawl to his master’s feet, and express his joy at his return, and almost immediately after expired.


In the month of February of the very severe winter, 1795, as Mr Boulstead’s son, of Great Salkeld, in Cumberland, was looking after his father’s sheep on Great Salkeld Common, not far from Penrith, he had the misfortune to fall and break his leg. He was then three miles from home, with no person within call, and evening very fast approaching. Under the impulse arising from the desperate circumstances of his situation, he folded up one of his gloves in his handkerchief, tied this about the neck of his dog, and ordered him home. Dogs which are trained to an attendance on flocks are known to be under admirable subjection to the commands of their masters, and execute their orders with an intelligence scarcely to be conceived. The animal set off, and arriving at the house, scratched at the door for admittance. The parents were alarmed at his appearance, and concluding, upon taking off and unfolding the handkerchief, that some accident had undoubtedly befallen their son, they instantly set off in search of him. The dog needed no solicitation. Apparently sensible that the chief part of his duty was still to be performed, he led the way, and conducted the anxious parents directly to the spot where their son had fallen. The young man was taken home, and the necessary aid being procured, he was soon in a fair way of recovery; nor was he ever afterwards more pleasingly employed than when reciting this anecdote, so illustrative of the sagacity and fidelity of his constant companion.


Mr Blaine relates the following circumstance:— “I remember watching a shepherd boy in Scotland, who was sitting on the bank of a wide but shallow stream. A sheep had strayed to a considerable distance on the other side of the water; the boy, calling to his dog, ordered him to fetch that sheep back, but to do it gently, for she was heavy in lamb. I do not affect to say that the dog understood the reason for which he was commanded to perform this office in a more gentle manner than usual; but that he did understand he was to do it gently was very evident, for he immediately marched away through the water, came gently up to the side of the sheep, turned her towards the rest, and then they both walked quietly side by side to the flock. I was scarcely ever more pleased at a trifling incident in rural scenery than this.”


A butcher and cattle-dealer who resided about nine miles from the town of Alston, in Cumberland, bought a dog of a drover. This butcher was accustomed to purchase sheep and kine in the vicinity, which, when fattened, he drove to Alston market and sold. In these excursions he was frequently astonished at the peculiar sagacity of his dog, and at the more than common readiness and dexterity with which he managed the cattle, till at length he troubled himself little about the matter, but, riding carelessly along, he used to amuse himself with observing how adroitly the animal acquitted himself of his charge. At last, so convinced was he of his sagacity as well as fidelity, that he wagered he would intrust him with so many sheep and so many oxen to drive alone and unattended to Alston market. It was stipulated that no person should be within sight or hearing who had the least control over the dog; nor was any spectator to interfere, nor be within five hundred yards. On trial, this extraordinary animal proceeded with his business in the most steady and dexterous manner; and although he had frequently to drive his charge through other herds which were grazing, yet he never lost one, but, conducting them into the very yard to which he was used to drive them when with his master, he significantly delivered them up to the person appointed to receive them, by barking at his door. What more particularly marked the dog’s sagacity was, that when the path on which the herd travelled lay through a spot where others were grazing, he would run forward, stop his own drove, and then, driving the others away, collect his scattered charge and proceed. He was several times afterwards thus sent. alone for the amusement of the curious, or the convenience of his master, and always acquitted himself in the same adroit and intelligent manner. The story reached the ears of a gentleman travelling in that neighbourhood, who bought the dog for a considerable sum of money.

“Extraordinary as the circumstances are, I have (says Mr Blande, who related this,) no doubt whatever as to the perfect correctness of the statement. I resided for a twelvemonth within a few miles of the spot, and, as I before observed, the whole appeared fresh in every one’s recollection.”


The following anecdote is an instance of that sagacity and attachment which so justly contribute to make the dog a favourite and confidant of man :— Those valleys, or glens as they are called by the natives, -which intersect the Grampian mountains, are chiefly inhabited by shepherds. The pastures over which each flock is permitted to range, extend many miles in every direction. The shepherd never has a view of his whole flock at once, except when it is collected for the purpose of sale or shearing. His occupation is to make daily visits to the different extremities of his pastures in succession, and to turn back, by means of his dog, any stragglers that may be approaching the boundaries of his neighbours. In one of these excursions, a shepherd happened to carry along with him one of his children, an infant about three years old. This is a usual practice among the Highlanders, who accustom their children from the earliest infancy to endure the rigours of the climate. After traversing his pastures for some time, attended by his dog, the shepherd found himself under the necessity of ascending a summit at some distance to have a more extensive view of his range. As the ascent was too fatiguing for his child, he left him on a small plain at the bottom, with strict injunctions not to stir from it till his return. Scarcely, however, had he gained the summit, when the horizon was suddenly darkened by one of those impenetrable mists which frequently descend so rapidly amidst these mountains, as, in the space of a few minutes, almost to turn day into night. The anxious father instantly hastened back to find his child; but, owing to the unusual darkness, and his own trepidation, he unfortunately missed his way in the descent. After a fruitless search of many hours amongst the dangerous morasses and cataracts with which these mountains abound, he was at length overtaken by night. Still wandering on without knowing whither, he at length came to the verge of the mist, and, by the light of the moon, discovered that he had reached the bottom of the valley, and was now within a short distance of his cottage. To renew the search that night was equally fruitless and dangerous. He was therefore obliged to return to his cottage, having lost both his child and his dog, which had attended him faithfully for years. Next morning by daybreak, the shepherd, accompanied by a band of his neighbours, set out again to seek his child; but, after a day spent in fruitless fatigue, he was at last compelled by the approach of night to descend from the mountain. On returning to his cottage, he found that the dog which he had lost the day before had been home, and, on receiving a piece of cake, had instantly gone off again. For several successive days the shepherd renewed the search for his child, and still, on returning in the evening disappointed to his cottage, he found that the dog had been there, and, on receiving his usual allowance of cake, had instantly disappeared. Struck with this singular circumstance, he remained at home one day, and when the dog, as usual, departed with his piece of cake, he resolved to follow him, and find out the cause of this strange procedure. The dog led the way to a cataract at some distance from the spot where the shepherd had left his child. The banks of the water-fall, almost joined at the top, yet separated by an abyss of immense depth, presented that abrupt appearance which so often astonishes and appals the traveller amidst the Grampian mountains, and indicates that these stupendous chasms were not the silent work of time, but the sudden effect of some violent convulsion of the earth. Down one of these rugged and almost perpendicular descents the dog began, without hesitation, to make his way, and at last disappeared in a cave, the mouth of which was almost upon a level with the torrent. The shepherd -with difficulty followed; but, on entering the cave, what were his emotions, when he beheld his infant eating with much satisfaction the cake which the dog had just brought him, while the faithful animal stood by, eyeing his young charge with the utmost complacence! From the situation in which the child was found, it appears that he had wandered to the brink of the precipice, and either fallen or scrambled down till he reached the cave, which the dread of the torrent had afterwards prevented him from quitting. The dog, by means of his scent, had traced him to the spot, and afterwards prevented him from starving by giving up to him his own daily allowance. He appears never to have quitted the child by night or day, except when it was necessary to go for its food, and then he was always seen running at full speed to and from the cottage.


In the end of October 1828, a Shepherd’s Dog was observed wandering about a field in the neighbourhood of Bannockburn; he was supposed to have strayed from some of the dealers who had been attending Falkirk Tryst (market). He was extremely timid, and it was remarked, that, instead of wandering about in search of food, he never went near a house, although there were several in the neighbourhood. Still the circumstance attracted little notice, till four or five days after his appearance, when a sudden change in the habits of a dog of the same kind belonging to Mr Jaffray, farmer at Holm, led to a – discovery equally interesting and curious. We must have supposed that this animal had fallen in with his brother colley, and that, having taken pity on his forlorn condition, he had resolved on doing all that a dog could do to relieve his wants. Mr Jaffray’s family were surprised to observe, that their dog, instead of eating up whatever he got in the way of food, carried off the whole or at least a portion of it. On this being frequently repeated, their curiosity led them to follow him to ascertain what he did with it, and they were not more astonished than gratified, to find that he proceeded to the field where his strayed brother lay, and presented to him the fare which he stood so much in need of. He continued to perform his friendly offices with such regularity, that the wanderer was never in want; and it was even remarked, that when his own food happened not to be of a portable nature, he did not hesitate to cater for his friend, and pick up whatever bone or offal he could find, and carry them to him.

Related Images:

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.