Up until Victorian times dogs were typed according to the jobs they did, herding dogs, hunting dogs, baiting dogs, ratters and so on. They weren’t given any special status other than that they needed to be good at their job or they were simply ‘disposed of’. The dog owners were certainly not concerned about what their dogs looked like only that they did the job.
However the Victorian era saw a rise in what we could call the leisure classes, the industrial revolution suddenly produced an emerging middle class that had time and money on their hands. The Victorian era saw the landed gentry ‘make over’ their homes and gardens in ways to express their new wealth. Everything had to look just right. Once the houses and gardens were done eyes were turned to their livestock, horses, cows, pigs and sheep all were bred and re-bred until they consistently got an animal with the features they desired.
In 1860 a combination of British and French troops stormed the Forbidden City in Peking and during the ensuing confusion a “Lion Dog” was taken and later given to Queen Victoria as a gift. This Lion Dog is what we now know as the Pekinese. Other Pekinese dogs were smuggled out of China and brought to England. These dogs were bred for the Chinese royal family and were regarded as sacred, even seeing one of these dogs was seen as such a crime that the perpetrator would be put to death. After the Manchu dynasty was overthrown the Pekinese almost became extinct in China.
These small unusual looking dogs created a social whirlwind in court circles in England, Queen Victoria was immediately smitten and became an avid fan of these dogs. At the time of her death she had five of them.
In late Victorian England it became fashionable and a display of one’s status and wealth to have a dog as a pet – that is a dog that, unlike a working dog, did not need to do anything to earn its keep other than to look good. This started the ‘makeover’ of dogs.
If someone wanted a dog with a curly tail they simply mated two dogs with curly tails until they got a dog that consistently produced puppies with curly tails. Want a small dog, mate two small dogs together until you consistently get a small dog.
Once this fashion for different looking dogs had started, there needed to be some way of comparing dog to dog to determine which was the better animal. Dog shows (or Dog Fancies) had been run in pubs and village halls for many years and the results were published in ‘The Field’ magazine. The editor of the magazine, John Henry Walsh, wanted to develop a way that dog could be compared to dog to determine a factual basis for judges to decide the ‘best’ one. As a result he published the first breed standard, called at the time a ‘Model’, for a Springer Spaniel – this was based on a dog called Major that had just won a competition in Birmingham.
Baron Tweedmouth, Dudley Marjoribanks was a keen hunter and wanted to develop a unique retriever to recover shot birds from lakes and rivers. He commenced a breeding program in 1868 by crossing a number of different breeds until he accomplished his goal of what was originally called the Yellow Retriever. In 1910 an infamous Lord of the Realm commented that they were all the colour of a Golden Guinea, from that time on they became known as the Golden Retriever and all Golden Retrievers today can trace their ancestry back to the dogs of Baron Tweedmouth.
I hope you enjoyed this four part précis of the rise of the domestic dog. If there are any subjects you would like me to cover in future blogs please let me know.