Showing posts with label Dog History 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dog History 101. Show all posts

Dog History: All the President's Dogs - Washington to Monroe

President Barack Obama and his dog Bo, playing on the
White House Lawn. Bo is a Portugese Water Dog.
There's no doubt about it, Americans love dogs!

There are millions of pet dogs in the United States, and more all over the world. Dog fans love to see "dogs of influence", like the pets of the actors they like, pets of royalty, animal TV and movie stars, and especially, the pets of the Presidents.

Good news, dog lovers! There have been dogs in the White House for as long as there have been Presidents in the White House. Although not every President has had a dog, many furry friends have accompanied many Presidents through their years of service as President of the United States (POTUS).

Since we love to explore canine history and, lets face it, put our two cents in on just about everything we write, we're going to break this article down into several parts. That way, we can better explore the Presidents and their canine pals, with a few little anecdotes thrown in for good measure. With 44 POTUS so far, there is a lot of ground to cover. Part one of this series will cover the first 5 Presidents and their dogs (or lack thereof).

Dog History: The Sainted Dog

greyhound illustration public domain
In the French tale, the dog is a greyhound.
There is a legend, whether truth or fiction (likely fiction born out of some former truth, as most legends are), of a dog risen to sainthood, after protecting a child and receiving a swift execution as his reward.

There are two stories, one Welsh and one French, both with similar motifs, and one was almost certainly copied from the other. We'll focus on the French one first, and touch on the Welsh one later.

In this tale, a French noble from the 13th century raised a greyhound named Guinefort like it was his child, and had a great trust for the dog due to this relationship with him. Some stories say the man was a prince, while others say he was a nobleman or knight, but that is neither here nor there. What is important to know is that this lofty French fellow later had a baby with his wife, and began raising the child with his beloved dog. He trusted the dog so much that he decided that he could leave his baby alone with the dog while he went out hunting (OK, so he's not in the running for Father of the Year or anything here!). It is unknown where the baby's mother was when this noble hunter decided to go off hunting and not scrounge up a few bucks (17th century French bucks, of course) for a sitter.

Dog History: Sled Dogs

Sled dogging may be one of the coldest (and oldest) activities in the world of the human-canine partnership. It involves lots of barking and running about, but most “mushing teams” seem to love it! Dog sledding dates back to at least 2000 BC, possibly even earlier, but it wasn't for sport or fun back then. In the days before gas powered vehicles, it's very likely that dog sledding was a huge part of transportation in the areas of the world with a lot of snow and ice. Many dog sled teams are made up of a large number of dogs, and can be used to carry a heavy load over a long length.

Dog sledding began as an ancient form of transportation.
Sled dogs can be many different breeds of dogs, but there are a few breeds that are used most often. The Siberian Husky is one of the most well known sled dog breeds. These dogs love to pull and have an obsessive need for a "job". They are strong and enjoy being in packs. The Alaskan Malamute was actually bred to be a sled dog and is used very often for dog sledding. The Alaskan Husky is a great choice for sledding, since they love to keep busy and are very affectionate with other dogs, as well as people.

Teams of sled dogs need a lot of training and hard work to be able to complete sled races. Although sledding was used for transport and moving things in the past, it is now mostly used for sport. I mean, what dog wouldn't want to pull a huge sled across a freezing stretch of snow, right? Seriously though, once sled dogs are trained, they seem to really enjoy all that "mushing"!

Dog sled racing was never made an Olympic sport, although it was a demonstration at two different Olympics in the past. Instead, there are many large races, and serious competitions across the US and Canada. Teams of sled dogs can be as small as four dogs, or in some races it can be unlimited. Most sled dog races are in the United States and go up to 1,000 miles.

Dog History: Turnspit Dogs

You can see the poor Turnspit Dog running a wheel,
in the center-top of this old illustration.
Turnspit dogs.

Ever heard of them? I hadn't, until recently. So what is a Turnspit Dog?

Well, according to our oldest sources, including one book written in 1576, Turnspit Dogs were bred to run on a wheel, called a turnspit. This wheel turned meat so that it would cook evenly. For this reason, the Turnspit Dog was also called the Kitchen Dog, or the Cooking Dog.

These dogs were bred in a particular manner, so as to have stubby legs and long bodies. Estimates put them about 15 inches tall and 30 pounds in weight, and they are usually illustrated with a white stripe down the middle of their large heads. Some sources say they looked like big Welsh Corgis with floppy ears!

The Turnspit Dog's job required courage and loyalty to his master. Running in a wheel by a fire in a hot kitchen for hours on end, smelling cooking meat for hours, but not stealing the meat, giving in to their natural fear of fire, or even stopping to rest. Yet, these Cooking Dogs were not respected by the people, despite the valuable work they did. Go figure.

In his 1870 book, Anecdotes of Dogs, author Edward Jesse wrote:
“How well do I recollect, in the days of my youth, watching the operations of a turnspit at the house of a worthy old Welsh clergyman in Worcestershire, who taught me to read.”
He goes on to describe the scene and the dogs.
“As he had several boarders, as well as day-scholars, his two turnspits had plenty to do. They were long-bodied, crooked-legged, and ugly dogs, with a suspicious, unhappy look about them, as if they were weary of the task they had to do, and expected every moment to be seized upon to perform it. Cooks in those days, as they are said to be at present, were very cross, and if the poor animal, wearied with having a larger joint than usual to turn, stopped for a moment, the voice of the cook might be heard (be)rating (hi)m in no very gentle terms. When we consider that a large solid piece of beef would take at least three hours before it was properly roasted, we may form some idea of the task a dog had to perform in turning a wheel during that time.”
A drawing of a Turnspit Dog. Looks cuddly enough to me!
The dogs couldn't do this day in and day out without dying of exhaustion, of course. So there were usually turnspit teams, and the dogs took shifts. They learned to hide themselves on the days or times when it was not their turn, and sometimes even rebelled against their owners, who were not treating them well at all, when you stop and think about it.

Edward Jesse wrote about an instance said to have happened at the Jesuits' College in La Fl├Ęche:
“After the cook had prepared his meat for roasting, he looked for the dog whose turn it was to work the spit, but not being able to find him, he attempted to employ for this service another that happened to be in the kitchen. The dog, however, resisted, and, having bitten the cook, ran away. The man, with whom the dog was a particular favourite, was much astonished at his ferocity. The wound he had received was a severe one, and bled profusely, so that it was necessary to dress it. While this was doing, the dog, which had run into the garden, and found out the one whose turn it was to work the spit, came driving him before him into the kitchen, when the latter immediately went of his own accord into the wheel.”
So these dogs were no dummies! They had heart and soul, and a brain to boot. They were loyal and hard-working.

In addition to their uses as “Cooking Dogs” the Turnspit Dog would sometimes be taken to church as a foot-warmer. And the children could play with them when they weren't busy working (in those days, the children worked, too, you know; just not on the meat-turning treadmill.) So these dogs performed several uses, including keeping children off meat-turning treadmills, and probably even more than I have found in my research, since they weren't exactly the subject of much study.

Which makes this next part all the worse to say!

Being thought of so lowly, and being treated with such disdain, records were not kept of the incredible Turnspit Dog as a breed, and no attempt to maintain the breed was made. Technology made the job they performed obsolete. Therefore, the breed ceased to exist. It is thought that the modern Glen of Imaal Terrier is a relative of the Turnspit Dog, but beyond that, who knows.

In The Harmsworth Natural History, written in 1910 by R Lydekker, we are already being told of the death of the breed.
“With the cessation of its monotonous occupation has come about the practical extinction of the old English turnspit...”
So, the proud Turnspit Dogs, which sound like they would have been wonderful companions, but were instead treated as unappreciated slaves, had fulfilled their function and ceased to be. A sad story, but one worth sharing.

We modern day dog lovers salute you, Turnspit Dogs! I wish we could have somehow made up for all those years of loyal service you gave, and for mankind's mistreatment of your magnificent breed.

Dog History: How A Dog Taught Napoleon The True Impact Of War

Napoleon Bonaparte.
Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte had a soft spot for dogs? Or that poodles and other canines played important roles during the Napoleonic Wars, including duty as guards, mascots, and even medicine carriers?

It may seem hard to imagine poofy-haired pooches on the battlefield, but its true! There is quite a bit of literature describing various canines, mostly poodles, and the roles they played during the Napoleonic Wars. All of it is fascinating, and although I have no doubt that some of the tales are merely fanciful stories with dubious origins, a few of them are based on reliable sources.

The Memorial of Saint Helena is a collection of memories penned by Emmanuel, The Count de Las Cases, who somehow ended up acting as Napoleon's secretary during his exile at Saint Helena. The book draws upon years of regular conversation, and Emmanuel seems to have been very studious about keeping records of Napoleon's yammerings-on. In the memoir, the outcast-formerly-known-as-Emperor relates the story of a particular dog and how it affected him.

Here's the set-up: After a "great" military action in Italy, Napoleon is passing through the field of battle, while the dead bodies still lay about on the ground. Normally he wouldn't bat an eye at this bloodshed. After all, these wars caused several million deaths, and "The Little Corporal" was pretty used to it. This time, he sees something different.

Welcome to What About Dogs!

Celebrity dogs will be featured, too!
Celebrity dogs will be featured, too!
Welcome to What About Dogs!

I'm guessing you can already tell by the name that WhatAboutDogs.com is about dogs. To be more specific, this site is going to feature fun articles and stories in three fur-filled categories:

Dog History - In these articles we will cover the history of dogs, from ancient to modern times, and the role our best friends in the animal kingdom have played in shaping our world. Sometimes these stories will be sad, sometimes uplifting, exciting, or even (maybe) funny! But we promise to present them all in easily digested portions, and to weed out any dull bits.

For instance, did you know that Alexander the Great is said to have been saved from an attacking elephant by his dog, Peritas. Ol' Alex later named a city Peritas, to honor the dog. You could make a strong argument that without Peritas, the conqueror may have simply been known as Alexander the Not-Bad, and might have never laid the groundwork for western civilization!

Famous Dogs - From fictional dogs like Snoopy to real-life dogs like Barry, the St Bernard, who saved many lives working as a rescue dog in Switzerland, in this section we cover dogs who achieved a great level of renown.

Why Does My Dog...? - These posts will deal with answers to those things you've always wondered about, such as why your dog spins in circles before laying down, kicks the ground after going potty, or just won't stop licking you.

We'll keep adding new sections as needed, but for now, this lays the groundwork for what we hope will be a fun and exciting site for dog lovers (and history buffs) everywhere!