Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The 'Wonderful Dog' - Munito

Munito- featured in an advert for chocolate!
For a family night out in the 19th century, a trip to see Munito, the Wonderful Dog, was de rigour. Indeed, Munito was such a celebrity that he listed the Prince Regent and Duke of York amongst his fans. This intelligent dog could perform tricks, do sums and spell using lettered cards, and he started his career in Paris, playing dominoes - which fascinated the Parisians who bet bonbons and cakes on the outcome of his games.
His master was Signor Castelli, of whom little is known other he came from Italy and was thought to be in his 50's. Castelli spoke no English, only Italian and bad French, which he claimed the dog understood. The pair were often seen walking in London, with Castelli chatting away to the dog as if holding a conversation. 
But the dog, Munito, was not only intelligent but also brave. Apparently, he helped his master, Signor Castelli, rescue a woman from drowning and as a result was awarded an honoury medal by the Royal Humane Society.

The original Munito looked similar to this
Water Spaniel or Poodle?
Munito's breed is open to debate. Pictures of him from contempory posters show a medium sized, woolly dog with a sort of lion-clip. Apparently the dog's father was a hound and his mother, who Muntio was said to resemble, a water spaniel; the coat white all over except for a tan patch over his left eye. However, poodle breeders disagree and claim Munito for their own.
Indeed, confusion may have arisen as it seems likely over the years, as many as 3 dogs going by the same name, performed in England and France. It seems likely the original Munito worked between 1816 and 1824, and Munito the poodle appeared in 1827 until the mid 1830's.

A plate showing Munito playing dominoes.
How was Munito trained?
The answer to how Munito was trained, was answered by, of all people, the novelist Charles Dickens. In 1867 Dickens wrote about having seen Munito's act, some 45 years earlier.
"… a learned dog was exhibited in Piccadilly -  Munito … He performed many curious feats, answering questions, telling the hour of the day … picking out any cards called for from a pack on the ground.”
Dickens set his observational skills to work and noticed how Munito walked around the cards sniffing them. The writer came up with an explanation as to how Munito did the trick.
“We watched more narrowly … noticed that between each feat the master gave the dog some small bits … of food, and that there was a faint smell of aniseed from that corner of the room.” 

If you were wealthy enough, you could pay to have Munito
perform in your own home.
Indeed, Dickens noted a smell of aniseed coming from Castelli's waistcoat and concluded that he marked the relevant card with a small amount of aniseed on his thumb. However, another novelist, Jules Verne, who had also seen Munito (and alluded to him in 'A Captain at Fifteen') came up with a different explanation. He thought that Munito's master snapped a toothpick in his pocket when the dog sniffed the right card.
And finally, if you have enjoyed this post you can read about The Learned Pig here.

The Learned Pig - an illustration by Thomas Rowlandson


  1. How I wish I could have seen that dog perform. Dogs are capable of learning so much, and even if his master had prompts, Munito still sounds pretty smart.

  2. Definitely! Whoever performs with animals must have nerves of steel - imagine the unpredictability!
    G x


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