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dogs, superstitions, dog breeding, weather, hunting, howling, moon, barking, Lebanon, Bethel Township
Handwritten manuscript entitled, "Dogs: Superstitions and Beliefs", by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated March 9, 1953. Within, Dieffenbach details a number of folk beliefs and superstitions surrounding dogs, ranging from secret breeding techniques to a tale about a dog trying to save his master from suicide.
Packet 577-211-31 to 577-211-40
Dogs - Superstitions and Beliefs.
Since the days when predicting the future was part of the official state of religion, people have a lot of various beliefs and usages predicting the future. Some of these may be rationally considered while others may be purely the result of past-time or blowing off steam. The interest in these various beliefs was very deep among the Pennsylvania Dutch, and still is, to this day. The following folk-beliefs have been hap-hazardly collected by the writer in over a half of a century.
While there are countless superstitions relating to dogs and their masters, it is but natural that not everyone believes in any, nor all of them. Neither are all of them known to the public.
If a black dog (male) on the 21st of March (Spring Equinox) will be sitting and licking his rear end, going with his tongue from below upwards towards the tail, then there will be a lot of foggy weather (“nevvel-wetter”) but very little rain during the Summer. (de Ketty Hertzler - de hauch-frau.)
If a hound-pup’s nose has all the long hair (the feelers, some call them) curving backwards from the nose towards his tail, he will develop into a very good hunter. (Tyrus Haag)
If the occiput, (the occipital bone) can be felt on the pup’s head like a hazel-nut he will be a super dog when he is matured (Sam Troutman)
If the slut - “de bitsch”, is bred in the first week of her heat-period the pups will look like the sire and will be mostly females. If she is bred during the last half of the second week or even in the third week, then the litter will be males and will look like the dam. This is a breeder’s secret, very rarely divulged, and it took years for me to find out about it.
(From a big kennel in Kentucky.)
If the bitch is used for hunting right up to the time of whelping, then her litter will be superior to those raised in confinement. This has been proved time and again. Likewise if either or both were hunting before or during the mating, the resulting progeny will be of the best hunters. But to have one in heat while hunting will convince any sportsman of the realism of infernal fires. (Numerous hunters told me.)
I had one occasion to do it; she went off towards a field full of hunters. I called her, and also my dog Jack. She came back to me followed by Jack (mine) and five other "Jack-dogs." The while their owners and I were sorting them out and getting them untangled the hunting for that forenoon was spoiled for all of us. One hunter (a perfect stranger) said: “'S nemmt awe en ferdommter ux os seilaiva en hundt Jack haist!” (It takes a dam fool that will ever call a dog Jack!)
“We haist deiner?” (What is yours called?)
“Ei John!” - (Why John!) he said.
And the very next litter I selected my John from the nine of them, at the advanced age of three days.
(D. O. B.)
“Won der hundt warrickst ivver en fressa, no gebt 's seller dawg nuch raya!“ (If the dog gags while eating it will rain yet that self-same day.)
(From old Leisy Weiss)
If you can take the heart out of a live weasel - i.e. without having previously killed it, and feed it to a dog he will never bark at you as long as hair or hide of him is left.
(We tried it - it worked 100%) But be sure to do it in the dark of the moon (laar-licht) and don’t you dare to open your mouth while doing it.
John Troxel, Sam Troutman (both veteran coon-hunters) and I tried it. I am the only survivor of the quartette, and cannot prove it.
“Won en hundt on ma doata mensch fresst don fer-reckter!“ (If a dog eats at a corpse then he will die!) “Ya - er doot so awe!” (He will anyway!)
"Coomt mer ivver der hundt so coomt mer ivver der schnontz!" Moral - You have had difficulties before, and survived them, so you need not have to be afraid of present or future misfortunes. (Old, but very common)
“Won mer der hundt drefft, dow blofft er!“ (If you hit the dog, he will bark) i.e. if you throw hints as to the culprit’s guilt, he will generally put up a big holler. (Same as above)
“En pershing-baum un en hundt sui usht sivva yohr qsundt!“ (A peach-tree and a dog are only seven years healthy!) (Usually true; but the writer has had both to live for fourteen years. (also very old and common too)
En hundt os goutst beisst net!“ (A barking dog don’t bite!) (very old and true)
“Ken hundt bosst ow en kee-schwontz!“ (No dog fits on a cow’s tail!) (Grandad.)
“Won en hundt mull en sei-novvel im moul cot hut, no iss er nix may waart fer en sake tsu schmeara!“ (Once a dog has had the hogs-navel in his mouth, it is no good any more for greasing a saw!”) Moral - the dog would eat it, if he had it in his mouth. Tip, my pug-dog, friend of my childhood days took the afore said piece of pork in his mouth when the cows were coming too close for safety, and climbed up on top of a big pile of lumber, and sat there and held it in his mouth. But he made nary a chew on it - he knew better. (D. O. B.)
If a pup is weaned in the dark of the moon - (im obnemma) he will never get cross. (John Brown - “the Braucher”.)
Tell every stranger to step on your pup’s toes - (his fore-paws) when the gambols and cavorts over there, and nobody will ever steal him when once he is full-grown. I had to chain mine up, so he wouldn’t bite them - he got tired of it. (D. O. B.)
“Nemmt goot in acht we der hundt un der ginney - hawna schloofa, no wisst deer well awoke os der shtorrem haar-coomt!” (Observe with care in what posture the dog and the guinea-cock sleep, and you will know from what direction the storm will come!) Both will face in the direction of the oncoming storm. (John Groff - veteran coon-hunter, in my boyhood days.)
“Drow niemann os dei hundt net drowa doot!“ (Trust no one that your dog don’t trust!) (Same author)
“Ferwos goutst der hundt on der Moondt?“ (Why does the dog howl at the moon?)
Possibly this habit has been transmitted thru the ages from his primeval ancestors - the big timber-wolves; if they wanted to chase a deer the leader would summon the pack to the chase by moonlight, sitting on some elevation, and sending out his howl for the pack to gather and follow.
Why does a dog pant? Because his sweat glands are in his tongue.
Why does he howl when a dinner bell is rung? His ears are so sensitive and attuned to a wave-length imperceptible to humans, that the vibration produced by the bell will injure his delicate hearing system.
Old Sol. Weller and his Dog.
When old Sol. Weller did not show up at the mill for over a week, and the neighbors recollected having heard a dog howling at night, they investigated, and here is what they found: “In an old dilapidated corn-shed with his neck in a noose fastened to a beam overhead, they found the old recluse, swaying back and forth in the wintry blast. Cattle were lowing - horses neighing and pawing - hogs grunting to be fed; and thru it all there sat old Sol’s gaunt old hound-dog - his almost toothless jaws bared at them, faithfully guarding his defunct master’s body. They had to shoot him before they dared to approach close to the swinging corpse.
A stairway went up to a loft, and there was a hole in the upper floor; here he had reached down and had fastened the rope to a beam, and then jumped down through. The dog could barely reach the rope while lying prone on the floor. Claw marks on the floor and the beam showed where he had slipped and fell down while trying to gnaw and sever the rope with his teeth. Had he been younger, and his teeth in good condition he would doubtless have succeeded in saving his master’s life. As it was, he had only severed a few strands of the rope. Grandad used to relate of how his father or his grandfather had helped to bury the old man. “Un der hundt den hew see in 's same luch”, (and the dog they put in the same hole (he never said “grave” when he related this) at his master’s feet.) I do not know the exact location of this tragedy as the old Dieffenbachs at first settled in the Tulpehocken region before they moved to Bethel township, where they are to this day. But he said that the farm was abandoned for years, and was finally sold for taxes; and the new owner or occupant burned down the old ramshackle shed once he knew of the gruesome details. But folks out late at night would claim that on a still winter’s night they heard a dog whining and howling at the moon - some place over the hill.
He also related of a dog that lay for days on his master’s grave, refusing to leave, and refusing food and water placed near him; and of how some well-meaning hunter finally shot him, to end his misery. Dogs are canny; and many of their loves and emotions are beyond the ken of us mortals. The writer has often wondered if an all-wise Creator did not get the two mixed up. Although some scientists (?) claim men are descended from dogs - seemingly a number of them have deteriorated.
While primitive man may not have been overly fastidious in his housekeeping and his relations with the canine tribe, they having undoubtedly sprung from a few homeless litters of wild pups (possibly some of them were whelped in a wolves’ den) so the dogs came in very handily as scavengers.
Nowadays conditions have been reversed, and the dog may have a factory-made pillow or cushion to sleep on, and a built in de-odorant to ward off his parasites.
I remember a picture in an old “reader” of a blind man having a big dog on a string - a cane in one hand, and a tin-cup for begging coins from the public. And a few years ago I saw one of our Vets of Foreign Wars and his seeing-eye-dog on the sidewalk in the city of Lebanon, safely conducted thru heavy auto-traffic. I followed them, un-noticed, and saw him go the rounds of offices, P. O. and Bank and Court House, and wound up in the hardware store of Uhler and Kline on Cumberland St., and heard him discussing the relative merits of a favorite brand of coffee that he used in his restaurant, just like an ordinary business-man; the dog meanwhile stretched prone on the floor, but ever watchful of every movement of his sightless owner. And I am still a-wondering which of the two has made the most progress in the interval of time between the two pictures - the one I saw in a book as a boy, or the one enacted before me there. Surely the human race and their canine friends have both progressed immeasurably throughout the years.
Times will change - new eras will evolve throughout the ages, but the dog will continue to be man’s best friend, until the end of time.
March 9th 1953 Der Aldt Bauer.
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach On Dogs: Superstitions and Beliefs, March 9, 1953" (1953). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 141.
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Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).