Munito – the Learned Dog.

Original title page

Munito the Learned Dog was born of a hound father and a water-spaniel mother at the village of Limito, near Milan, in about 1815. He was owned and trained by Signor Castelli d’Orino, a dedicated student of the intellectual faculties of animals. So spectacular was Mr Castelli’s success in training Munito that by 1817 he had toured Europe and was being exhibited daily in Mr Laxton’s Room at 23 New Bond Street, London, to the amazement of all who saw him:

“This matchless dog, who understands equally well the French and Italian languages, shews every evening new talents before the numerous and select company which his reputation brings to him: he not only proves that he knows all the cards of a complete pack, all the letters of the alphabet, all the numbers of arithmetic, all the points of the dominoes, and all the shades of colors, by bringing them at command; but, besides, he guesses and brings the cards which being drawn from a pack by different persons, and shuffled by others, are afterwards spread covered on the carpet. He looks at the color of a dress, and brings to his master a piece of the same shade, if there is any among the samples before him; if not, the nearest to it. He reads all sorts of hands; but not being endowed with the gift of speech, he, with printed letters placed at his disposal, makes copy of the words presented to him; afterwards, he plays a game at dominoes with whoever will condescend to procure him that little pastime.”

Not only this, but Munito could add, subtract, and multiply numbers “with astonishing quickness”, and was “acquainted with the principles of Geography and Botany.”

A brief account of Munito’s training may well be in order. At the time of his exhibition at Mr Laxton’s he was 22 months old, “and of a lively and caressing disposition.” His education had begun at the age of 2½ months, and had lasted 13 months, “during which time he never went out of the house, nor saw any other person besides his master.” The account goes on to say:

“…that after four months study, he knew cards, letters, figures, colors, and brought them when commanded; that the nine last months have been employed in making him combine letters, figures, and dominoes: and, finally, that in all the course of his lessons, his master has continually employed with him the rules which the wisest and most learned writers have given on the education of children; that he has never struck him, nor spoke to him angrily; that he has always adopted towards him a progressive course, founded upon reason, proportioned to his means, and supported by caresses and rewards, to make him do what he wished; so that, with good method, some chestnuts, and gentle treatment, he taught him, and makes him repeat every day, what he knows.”

This eight page tract also includes a chapter on “the courage and sensibility of Munito”, recording feats which would do credit to Lassie and Rin Tin Tin put together. For example, once, on the way to Germany, Mr Castelli had his luggage – and Munito – stolen by an unscrupulous carriage driver. Luckily Munito was able to escape, find his master, and lead him to the thief’s hiding place. The thief, however, put up “an insolent and brutish resistance” when pressed for the return of the stolen property, whereupon Munito “seized him by the throat” and “compelled him to confess his crime before the mayor and the inhabitants present.” Some time later, on the same journey:

“…he shewed his sensibility in a very remarkable manner, by doing an act of justice, in tearing to pieces a turkey-cock that had just peckt an eye out of a child in a cradle, to whose assistance he had arrived unfortunately too late.”

I reproduce below an engraving of this wonder dog in action, and a circular advertising his marvellous performances. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, I have been unable to locate an account of the Ourang-outang, trained by Buffon to act as his servant, and which is mentioned in the preface to the Munito tract.

Munito in action