Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Blogger Judith Laik: Dogs as Companions in the 19th Century, Part 2

We're welcoming back Judith Laik, Regency author and historic dog breed researcher extraordinaire, with the second half of her article on Companion Dogs of the 19th century:

Over the course of the century a great leap took place in the history of dog breeds. Before that, and even during the early years of the century, there was no standardization of the various breeds, no central registries which kept track of the ancestry of dogs, and no shows where dogs were judged according to their adherence to a breed standard.

On the face of it, this fact may not seem of much importance, but it’s really huge. Behind all of today’s breeds there is a mixture of several breeds. (People who breed today’s “designer dogs” seem to think they have a new idea, but it’s not so!) Dog owners didn’t care much about how dogs looked; they bred them for specific purposes, whether to guard their owner’s property, to herd the livestock, to help with hunting, or to be a companion. Dogs were chosen for their abilities, not their appearance.

They started to display the distinctive conformation of their breed when trial and error showed that certain skeletal structures, head types, ear formations, etc., were the most efficient for the work which that breed was supposed to do.

However, this means we might not recognize some of the breeds we know today if we saw their early 19th century counterparts. And many other breeds popular today didn’t yet exist in the earlier years of the century.

An outstanding resource for anyone interested in learning about the various dog breeds is the website of the American Kennel Club. ( All the recognized breeds of the AKC – 175 of them currently – plus an additional 62 breeds they are keeping track of for possible future recognition are listed. Each breed entry has a link to the website of a national organization devoted to that breed, and from there, you can usually find still more sites with photos and information, on breed characteristics, history, and so forth.

What’s your favorite dog character in a book? Mine is “Fitz” from Barbara Metzger’s A Loyal Companion, although I always enjoy reading about dogs in novels.

Thank you for blogging at Nineteenteen! Judith will be back in January with more information on 19th century dogs and their owners.

Two other thoughts to leave with you this Friday: 1) today is Jane Austen's birthday! The dear girl is 236, and her wonderful prose hasn't aged a day! 2) today through Sunday, Regina will be joining other Love Inspired authors on Goodreads to share tidbits on how Jane would have spent Christmas. Stop by the Love Inspired Historical Discussion Group and say hi! You might win a book!


Judith said...

Regina and Marissa, thanks for having me on your blog. I've enjoyed visiting and sharing my love for dogs. And I apologize for being out of touch! I did read Tuesdays post, but I didn't bring along my password for Google and couldn't post.

For those who commented on Tuesday's post, I've replied now, and I apologize for seeming to ignore you. I'm very grateful you took the time to comment!

Marissa Doyle said...

Judith, we're looking forward to your visit next month as well!

QNPoohBear said...

I'm not sure what my favorite dog in a novel is. I guess I should say Toto because he was played by a Cairn Terrier in the 1939 movie. My favorite Regency romance novel that features dogs is Barbara Metzger's The Primrose Path. All the dogs are really funny and I loved that they were all rescues.

Mirka Breen said...

Looking at the lovely images of the girls with their dogs, I couldn’t help but wonder how the painters managed the ‘from life’ work with the dogs. I know that contemporary portrait artists usually work from photographs, and that the older pre-photography way was to have the subject sit for hours. It may call to question what is harder- to get the canine or the youngish human to be still. That’s the sort of itty-bitty detail I’d love to read about.

Judith said...

I should have checked back later, but I was caught up in the Christmas rush and forgot all about it! QNPoohBear, I loved Toto in Wizard of Oz! He adds so much to the complications and fun. Barbara Metzger is the all-time best author for portraying the personalities of dogs and for integrating them seamlessly into her plots! I remember the menagerie in The Primrose Path.

Judith said...

Mirka Breen, it must indeed have been a challenge to get the young models and the animals to pose. We have enought trouble getting digital photos of our puppies. The time delay between pushing the button and the actual recording of the image often means the puppies are gone from the scene by that time! I believe though, that artists often drew a number of quick sketches and did a lot of their work from them. Details of clothing and background could be painted in while the subjects were off playing, and only facial details and such needed to have them there. Still, the results are so delightful that I'm glad the artists took the time to get their models to pose!