127 THE NINETEENTH CENTURY DOG
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY DOG
The Victorian era was a time of great change combined with remarkable stability. This was true in the world of the domestic dog just as much as in political and social life. Most of our native breeds of dog were established in this time. The influence of Britain throughout the world meant that British dogs were widely exported and valued abroad. The obsession of the ruling classes with field sports led to the development of superlative sporting breeds still renowned internationally. The introduction of dog shows, mirroring the livestock and hound shows already held in many parts of Britain, brought a new emphasis on the types of dog previously often only loosely collected into what became recognized breeds.
Sadly some breed-types were not to be perpetuated and disappeared: our decoy dog, the English Water Spaniel, the Devon Cocker, the Llanidloes Setter, the Smithfield Sheepdog and the Black and Tan broken-coated Terrier. Some breed-types were subsumed into developing breeds, especially the terrier breeds from more remote areas. This was the time when the pure-bred dog became king and for the first time in our history, dogs became prized not for what they could do but for what they looked like, a new dimension. But on the credit side, many breeds were saved by being brought into public prominence and promoted by dedicated fanciers. Order and credibility was introduced into the showing and judging of pure-bred dogs.
She had kennels built at Sandringham to house 60 hounds, the present Queen's Labradors being housed there today. Her heir, Edward VII, continued the family interest in dogs; he showed Chows, Skye Terriers and Basset Hounds, Queen Alexandra favouring Borzois and 'Japanese Spaniels' too. Edward's funeral procession was led by his close companion Caesar, a Fox Terrier. The Royal Family's dedicated interest in dogs undoubtedly affected public attitudes both to dogs and to the breeds they favoured, in the second half of the nineteenth century. For Crufts in 1893, the Czar of Russia sent over a splendid team of 18 Borzois, from his hunting kennels.
In the non-sporting breeds, Lady Alexander favoured Collies, as did Princess de Montglyon. Lady Lewis and Lady Pilkington were members of the Bulldog Club, Lady Brassey is said to have introduced the black Pug to us. More famous in the Pug world were Lady Willoughby de Eresby and Lady Reid. The Duchess of Richmond promoted the Pekingese, with the 'Japanese Spaniels' drawing the support of the Countess of Malmesbury, Lady de Ramsey, Countess Wharncliff, Lady Probyn and the Countess of Warwick. Princess Sophie Duleep-Singh bred quality black Poms. The Mastiff was kept by the Earl of Oxford, the Marquis of Hertford and Lords Stanley and Waldegrave. In the terrier world, the Countess of Aberdeen patronised the Skye Terrier and the Duchess of Newcastle the Fox Terrier.
Grand paintings in stately homes tell us much of the sporting and Toy breeds; you have to go 'folk art' to see depictions of the humbler Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, working terriers, lurchers and the pastoral dogs. Pointers and setters have had whole libraries of books devoted to them, but it was not until the latter end of Victoria's reign that the terrier and pastoral breeds, owned and worked by the humbler hunters and shepherds, received the literary attention they deserved. Bulldogs, long associated with the disreputable, were given prominence by breeders such as Bill George, and Bull Terriers, once developed for fighting purposes, fashioned by James Hinks, a Birmingham dog-dealer. Both breeds were favoured by sweeps, boxers and street-traders, as was the English White Terrier, now lost to us. Fox Terriers moved from the hunt stables to the drawing room, with the Rev. John Russell favouring his type in Devonshire.
The seeking of exotic and exaggerated dogs, made fashionable in Victorian England has sadly continued; more breeds with a foreign origin are now registered with our Kennel Club than our native breeds. The Mastiff, misrepresented by a strangely-favoured dog 'Crown Prince' in Victorian shows, is now desired to display great bulk, the Bulldog a muzzle-less skull, the Basset Hound (away from the packs) the longest ears obtainable and the Pomeranian a tiny-ness never desired in its homeland. Fashion alone has led to some breeds being overbred and then neglected, as the copycat mentality was expressed. The Victorians set a precedent in these regards which has not been kind to dogs. But their enlightened approach to animal welfare, strongly supported by Victorian society, led to campaigns against the vivisection of strays and the muzzling laws, culminating in the emergence of The National Canine Defence League, founded in 1891 at Crufts dog show. Valuable work by the RSPCA led to dogs' homes being established. After one landmark cruelty case, The Morning Advertiser asked with sarcasm, how the society proposed to regulate the pace of hunting, adding that when even rat-killing and pigeon-shooting would be banned, a true Englishman would have no option but to emigrate. The pace of hunting is certainly different now.
This widening influence was accompanied by changes at home; dog shows became fashionable, field trials were introduced and both hunting and shooting became 'must-do' events in the countryside. Shows and trials brought a need for registration so that a dog's identity could be verified. As the range and frequency of shot increased so the needs of sportsmen in their supporting dogs changed too. In the hunting field the better breeding of hounds received much more attention. Companion dogs too were influenced by greater foreign travel and the subsequent introduction here of exotic breeds from distant places. At the same time came more focus on animal welfare, the moral repugnance towards some barbaric so-called 'sports', greater concern over the plight of street-dogs, draught-dogs especially, and a move towards more enlightened training and less 'breaking' of dogs.
This development has had a marked effect on the well-being of the dog. Breeding from a closed gene pool is fine when things are going well but disastrous when inbred faults and genetic flaws are encountered. The Victorian era may have given us the breeds but it has also given us the problems arising from in-breeding, conducted for a century in some cases. Our lives have been enriched by the breeds of dog handed down to us by our Victorian ancestors; now we must use scientific advances and increased veterinary knowledge to capitalise on and not be penalised by the admirable pioneering work done by the Victorians in the 19th century. This was the challenge for 20th century breeders and is now one for those in the 21st. One old sportsman once said to me: "The Victorians gave us the breeds, two World Wars ruined them!" Now is our chance to build on new scientific knowledge combined with native wit about dogs.