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figure 1  


the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. A reference to the value of negative evidence or of paying as much attention to what is omitted as to what is included.

This dog from A. Conan Doyle's tale “Silver Blaze” is more literary than metaphorical, though the reference is sometimes used allusively. The iconic detective, Sherlock Holmes, tells the local inspector (who is investigating the theft of a race horse) that he should attend to this incident. The inspector replies, “The dog did nothing in the night-time,” to which Holmes replies, “That was the curious incident.”reference 1 The information that our astute observer gleaned from this “incident” is that, since the dog did not bark, the thief must have been known to the dog. Therefore, the theft was an inside job. When called upon, this allusion reminds us that negative information may be as significant as that which is affirmative. Whether this accurately reflects the true nature of dogs is not necessarily clear, though the assumption that dogs bark at strangers is apparently common knowledge. Stephen Budiansky, in his exposé, The Truth About Dogs, suggests that it may not always be true.reference 2

Just as this is a literary dog in origin, so too does it seem to turn up more often in literature than in the news or everyday speech. It is most likely to be cited by those who see themselves in the tradition of popular writing that Doyle influenced. Robert Heinlein calls on it in more than one instance, but most closely in his satire of sword and sorcery novels, Glory Road . The lady's champion, Oscar, unknowingly commits a faux pas on a foreign planet when he does nothing in the night with his host's wife and daughters. Typical American, Oscar thinks that his host would be offended, and our hero doesn't get that the lord of the manor is hoping that he will provide stud services. The error comes to light when Oscar ruefully tells his groom, Rufo, that “the dog did nothing in the night.”reference 3 Fortunately, the hero is able to make up for lost time, evoking, perhaps the more promiscuous associations with dogs.

1. Doyle, Arthur Conan. 1927. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 346-7.



2. Budiansky, Stephen. 2001. The Truth About Dogs. New York: Penguin Books.





3. Heinlein, Robert A. 1987. Glory Road. New York: Ace Books, 110-20.
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Nicole Brown Simpson's dog Kato spacer
figure 2  
Nicole Brown Simpson's dog—an Akita named Kato—definitely barked on the night of her murder, but, was it also significant that prior to the the attack he did not bark? The prosecution made much of when he did and did not bark. Kato's “plaintive wail,” as it was later described by neighbor Pablo Fenjves, supposedly established the time of Simpson's and Goldman's deaths within minutes. Ultimately, the dog led neighbors to the crime scene. Marjorie Garber, who identified and described the relationship between this twentieth century murder and the fictional one that Holmes investigated, traces this parallel.reference 4

In the O.J. Simpson trial, Nicole Brown Simpson's dog was a key witness. He barked, later, at the scene of the crime, but why was he silent earlier? Did he know or recognize the murderer? If “the dog did nothing in the nighttime,” that “nothing” was significant because he knew the criminal and did not regard him as an intruder.reference 5

She goes on to note the archtype that Kato embodies: “Once again dog nobility and fidelity stand over against human frailty...sentinel, guardian, evan arbiter of values.”reference 6

4. Garber, Marjorie B. 1996. Dog Love. New York: Simon & Schuster. 219.


5. Ibid. 220.

6. Ibid.

About the illustrations: Figure 1 appeared with the original publication of the Doyle story in the December 1892 issue of the Strand Magazine.reference 7 Sydney Paget was among the more influential of the Holmes illustrators. He is credited with the inclusion of the now-signature deerstalker cap, which is not mentioned in any of Doyle's descriptions of this most famous fictional detective. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Figure 2 is an AP image of “a dog, believed to be the Akita dog named ‘Kato’ owned by Nicole Brown Simpson, stand[ing] by the gate of O.J. Simpson's home Saturday July 2, 1994 in Los Angeles.”reference 8 I confess I found a certain irony that the only photographs that I could find of this dog showed him “behind bars.” Kato is believed to still be with the Simpsons, though renamed Satchmo. I don't think I will try to deconstruct that. Used by subscription.

7. Paget, Sydney. 1892. Silver Blaze. Strand Magazine, December.



8. Pizzello, Chris. 1994. 9407020107. (col. photograph) AP Images.

see also: watchdog; beware of dog
cf: Dogs don't bark at parked cars
Last updated: August 22, 2008
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