As promised, this week’s post is a continuation of popular dogs of the Regency era (Part 1 can be found here). As a reminder, dogs in general were not pets during this time period. There were always exceptions, especially in several of the breeds profiled in this post, but these dogs still had duties, that of companions. Until the Victorian period brought about standards and shows, dogs of the Regency were prized for their abilities and skills – their value lay in their work. And since the Victorians shifted the focus to dogs’ looks, don’t be surprised to notice some of the breeds looked very different in the early 19th century from what we recognize today.
A dog. CANT.
This breed originated exactly where you’d think – Newfoundland, Canada. Their webbed feet and thick, waterproof double coat made them ideally suited to swimming in cold waters, hauling fishing gear, and pulling smaller boats to shore. Its ancestry can be traced to that of the Mastiffs and Great Pyrenees, and they are thought to have made the trek from Europe to Canada with Portugese fisherman who fished the Grand Banks as early as 1610. They received their name from George Cartwright in 1775, who named his large dogs after his beloved island home.
Although selective breeding has created the 130-150 pound behemoths we know today, Regency Newfoundland dogs were bulky and brawny as well. They were first documented in print in British Quadrupeds by Sir Thomas Bewick in 1790 (a great book to research many animals present during the Georgian era, by the by). Despite living his whole life in Northern England, Sir Thomas made engravings and wrote biographies of all things animal: the only Newfoundland he ever saw was a large black and white dog with smooth hair and a curled tail from Eslington, Northumberland.
Colors of Newfoundland coats are black, brown, or gray on a body of mostly white. The typical black and white coloring we most associate with the breed was made popular by the artist Sir Edwin Henry Landseer; consequently, his name is now synonymous with that color scheme, the Landseer Newfoundland.
Fun facts: A Newfoundland accompanied Lewis and Clark on their exploration of the western United States, and legend has it when Napoleon escaped Elba in 1815, rough seas washed him out of his boat, where he was soon rescued by a Newfoundland dog who jumped in and kept him afloat. By the way, don’t call them Newfies; that moniker dates to 1942.
The English Pointer
The history of the English Pointer can be traced in both paintings and writings from the middle 17th century. The first Pointer hailed from Spain, but the breed came into its own in England, where it was crossed with Foxhounds for scenting, Greyhounds for speed, and English Bulldogs for strength and stamina. The English Pointer did exactly what its named implied: pointing out game for hunters or foxhounds to flush and chase. During the Regency era, this breed featured a long, blunt-shaped head, half-length tail, and brown and white coloring. Pointers were dogged in their pursuit of game, especially birds, and never gave up the hunt.
These are not your Grandmother’s Poms. Or in my case, your cool Aunt Paulette’s. History’s Pomeranians were solid white, weighed in around thirty pounds, pulled sleds (or more accurately, sledges), and herded other animals. They were robust workers and weren’t bred down to become “companions” until the latter end of the Regency. James Boswell wrote in his diary on 2 November 1764 that while traveling through Mainz, Germany, he met a French traveler, “a merchant of fine stuffs at Lyons…The Frenchman had a Pomeranian dog called Pomer, whom he was mighty fond of…a great lubbery dog with a head like a British tar.” Queen Charlotte even brought Pomeranians in her entourage to England in 1767. Although their name is derived from the region of Pomerania along the Baltic Sea in northern Poland and Germany, the breed itself did not originate here – only its name. This area gave rise to the Spitz, an ancestor of the Pomeranian, which means there is wolf blood in this breed. I kid you not. This could go a long way to explaining why this breed is now typically known as a “big dog in a little body.”
According to the Georgian Index, there are two theories on the poodle’s origins:
- The breed developed from rugged Asian herding dogs brought to Europe by the Moors in the 8th Century.
- The breed descended from the dogs that the Goths, a federation of German tribes, brought with them in their migration into Europe.
Since the name Poodle is a derivative of the German pudeln (puddle) and/or Pudelhund (water dog), I’m inclined toward option number two. Poodles were workers, in occupations as varied as sporting dogs who retrieved birds while on the hunt, to circus performers in traveling troupes. Just like the aforementioned Pomeranian, their keen intelligence and disposition were such that owners began to selectively breed them down as companion dogs for the nobility.
The Pug is considered one of the oldest breeds in the world, documented by none other than Confucius (known as Lo-Sze in Chinese) in 551 BC. According to Georgian England’s Top Dogs, they were valued for their “small size, short coat, and their Prince Mark – three wrinkles on the forehead and a vertical bar form a marking that repeats the Chinese character for Prince.” By the early 16th century, direct trade to China brought notice of the noble Pug to Europe; they were said to have arrived in England via the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary in 1688. This breed is the quintessential lap dog of yesteryear as well as today. Although their legs were not as short as now, they have always been compact and muscular, and have always been companion dogs, a sign of wealth and possibly indolence, as they are usually seen in family portraits as being quite chubby.
The Curly Coated Retriever
The Curly Coated Retriever is considered the oldest documented retriever breed, esteemed by both gamekeepers and poachers alike for its intelligence, commitment to the hunt, strength, and tenacity in pursing both game and fowl. Historians place their best guesses as to the origins of this breed in the late 18th century England, with traces of Labradors and Poodles found in its ancestry. Curlies have short, thick, solid black or brown coats that are tightly curled everywhere except the face.
Spaniels were the workhorses of the hunt. They flushed game, their medium build and height allowing them to hug low to the ground, dive under bushes, and retrieve kills after the hunter shot. They were slower than other game dogs, so they were ideally matched to the owner who hunted on foot rather than horse, which made them a breed suited to the “common man.” Historically, spaniels were categorized by the game they flushed: Cockers (woodcocks), Springers (patridge, pheasants, and rabbits), and Water (ducks, geese). A breed developed in the late 19th and early 19th century was known as the Sussex Spaniel, and was characterized by a wavy, golden-brown coat with fringe on the ears and underside, and a docked tail. It had no speed and no nose for well-hidden game, so it quickly evolved into a pet.
‘Terrier’ is a catch-all term for dogs bred to flush small game and critters from their burrows; several varieties were bred to actually enter burrows and kill their quarry. There are no over-arching characteristics in coat or looks distinctive to the name Terrier, so the grouping of dogs in this broad group is completely dependent on their job. Terrier comes from the Latin Terra, meaning earth. The list of Terrier breeds is long:
- Airedale – the largest of the group, also called Bingley and Waterside.
- Bedlington – small dog bred to hunt vermin in the mines of Northumberland.
- Border – small dog with long legs bred to hunt foxes and vermin in packs.
- Bull – medium-sized dog with egg-shapped, flattened muzzle; stubborn and independent, with white-coated version prone to deafness.
- Cairn – one of the oldest Scottish breeds, left-pawed which indicates strong scenting abilities.
- Dandie Dinmont – small dog with short legs and elongated body, named for a character in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering.
- Fox – two versions (Smooth Fox and Wire Fox), looks like small versions of the Airedale.
- Irish – one of the oldest Terrier breeds, has a distinctive reddish coat, worked on farms and in cities in Ireland.
- Kerry Blue – also known as Irish Blue Terrier, bred chiefly to control vermin (rats, rabbits, badgers, foxes).
- Lakeland – named for the Lake District, breed is friendly, bold, and confident.
- Manchester – smooth-coated Terrier bred to control rats in Manchester, were used in rat-baiting “sport.”
- Scottish – also known as Aberdeen Terrier, one of the five Scottish Terrier breeds, very independent and rugged.
- Sealyham – rare Welsh breed, not developed until the Victorian era, bred for pest control.
- Skye – small, short-legged, long-haired terrier bred for hunting but with a constitution suited for indoor living.
- Staffordshire – medium-sized dog with look of a Bull Mastiff, must be exercised and worked or develops destructive habits.
- Welsh – second Welsh breed developed to hunt foxes, rodents, and badgers; notable for not shedding.
- West Highland White – small Terrier with longer legs, first seen during reign of James VI of Scotland.
- Yorkshire – breed that arose in the mid-19th century to root out vermin in Yorkshire mills.
The Scottish Deerhound
Known for centuries as the Scotch Greyhound and Rough Greyhound, it’s not hard to fathom Scottish Deerhounds traced their ancestry to the Greyhound. They looked like bigger, hairier Greyhounds, with long legs, long hair, and sleek lines. They were first bred in the mid-16th century for their deer hunting abilities, and were often known as Staghounds; as this game could only be pursued by earls and above, they were the dogs of aristocrats during the Regency. The Scottish Deerhound was also known for its quiet, dignified personality, as long as furry beasties weren’t around to chase.
The Irish Wolfhound
Another descendant of the Greyhound, the Irish Wolfhound is the tallest of the dogs (but not the heaviest, like the Great Dane or Bull Mastiff). They are one of the oldest breeds, with references being found in Roman records from 391 AD. Wolfhounds were bred for endurance to hunt with their masters, strength to fight beside them in battle, bravery to guard their homes, and calmness to play with their children. An old Irish proverb says, “Gentle when stroked, Fierce when provoked.”
They were considered the dogs of the wealthy for many reasons: they hunted large game, a sport only allowed to aristocrats; their large size meant large amounts of food were necessary for their feed, and; they needed ample space to run and exercise. Wolfhounds were so skilled at hunting that they succeeded in rooting out their quarry from Ireland by the late 18th century; the Wolfhounds were subsequently shipped to England, where they enjoyed a resurgence in usefulness.
That concludes our drive through history of the popular dog breeds of the Regency. I’ll conclude with a just-for-laughs clip of Charlie the Dog, from the Looney Tunes of my Saturday morning youth. The recording is straight out of 1992 via camcorder and TV screen, but crank up the volume because Charlie’s truly a one-of-a-dozen-breeds kind of dog.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Learn the difference between Newfoundlands, St. John’s Water Dogs, and Retrievers at Natural History.
- Read exactly what Sir Thomas Bewick wrote about Newfoundlands, and a variety of all things four-legged, in his tome, A General History of Quadrupeds, and visit the Bewick Society to see Sir Thomas’s full collection.
- If you think Napoleon’s rescue by a Newfoundland was something, read about all Ten Dogs That Changed the World at CNN.
- My dog’s better than your dog. No, he’s not. Yes, he is! Read all about it in a Newfoundland Dog Duel by author Geri Walton.
- Country Life has a great post about their “favourite dog,” the English Pointer.
- You’ve not read anything until you’ve read James Boswell’s Boswell on the Grand Tour: Germany and Switzerland. This gentleman documented E V E R Y T H I N G.
- Read it for the title alone: Ten Not-So-Fluffy Facts About Pomeranians.
- Witness the connection between the Regency Poodle and the Regency Dandy in none other than The Honorable Frederick Gerald aka “Poodle” Byng at D.W. Wilkin’s terrific blog. Browse the others in his Personalities Series while you’re there.
- For a list of Pug-related references, head back over to my previous post on the noble beasts.
- M.M. Bennetts has a great post about An Englishman and His Dog.
- You’re on your own with all the terriers. Just pick a name and Google its history!
- For a pictorial of companion dogs, check out The 18th Century Dog at the American Duchess.
- Another great canine post from Mimi Matthews fits this week’s breed list: The Deerhounds of Windsor Great Park.
- Visit Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland to learn about Irish Wolfhounds – “Gentle When Stroked, Fierce When Provoked.”
- They can be confusing – discover What’s the Difference Between the Scottish Deerhound and the Irish Wolfhound?
- Dog history is not all beer and skittles. There was a heartbreaking side to dog ownership back in the day: Blood, Betting and Baiting: The Dark History of England’s Pubs at Historic UK.