On Saturday, I’ll be taking my doggie to intermediate puppy obedience class at AlphK9U in Fishers, IN (here’s a shout-out to an excellent dog obedience and sports facility). It’s a chance for my pup to socialize with other dogs, run-around and get some exercise, and swim (yep). I’ve always loved dogs and have owned a number of breeds, including rough standard collie, toy poodle, lhasa apso, Shetland sheepdog, Saint Bernard, Labrador retriever, and several mutts. Currently, we have a sassy six-pound black Pomeranian and my eight-month-old miniature Australian Shepherd.
I often put dogs in my stories, which required me to do some research about what breeds were around in fourteenth century England. What I found is similar to what I found when I looked up medieval horse breeds (look for that info in a different post)—dog breeds were named for the service they provided their master. That’s not so different than today, except that the names were a bit more…colorful.
Here’s a list of dogs from a late 15th century book known as the Boke of St Albans. Dame Juliana Berners (Barnes or Bernes?) lists the following types of dogs in her coverage of hunting practices: a greyhound, a mastiff, a mongrel, a lymer (a hound that finds game), a spaniel, raches (a hound that chases the game), a bastard, kennets (small hunting dogs), dung-heap dogs, terriers, ‘prick-eared curs,’ butcher’s hounds, and trundle-tails. Wouldn’t you love to know what a trundle-tail looked like?
Shakespeare runs down a list of dogs (in MacBeth) as hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves. I can just see someone looking down their nose at a neighbor’s mongrel as they walk past with their demi-wolf.
Another famous dog-writer was Dr. Johannes Caius, physician to Queen Elizabeth I. In his book, The Dogs of Britain (written in Latin, of course), he lists beast-hunting dogs as Greyhounds, Harriers, Tumblers, Bloodhounds, Gazehounds, and Terriers, among others. Some of those sound familiar, others not so much. He then lists water retrievers as pointers (indexes), setters, and spaniels. Farm dogs include the shepherd’s dog and the mastiff. For the “gentler sex,” he lists “gentle spaniels” and “comforters.” I think that last one, comforter, perfectly describes my little Finn.
Of all the historical dog breeds I’ve run across, one catches my interest more than the others, not because I imagine it as particularly appealing to the eye, but because it lived such an unfortunate life. They were the “turnspit” dogs that often lived their entire life in a cage by the fire, waiting for their master to put meat on the spit. When meat had been skewered and set over the fire, the little dogs ran on a wheel much like a hamster. This, then, turned the meat. They are typically described as scrappy little dogs that often received no human kindness in return for their work. In fact, it was common to add a few hot coals to their wheel to keep them from lying down on the job. And that is one of the reasons why we have animal cruelty laws today.
Enjoy these depictions of dogs in medieval art!
French writer, Christine de Pizan, and her dog
And my dog thinks our vet is bad…
“No, Fido, down! Bad dog!”