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The 18th century was a turning point for a number of things, but one of them, and not surprisingly, was the life of dogs. Up until that time, dogs kept as pets were looked down on, and this fueled derogatory phrases like the insult of being called a lap dog. 

 

Today, somewhere between 37 and 47 percent of households have a dog, according to the ASPCA. Today, our dogs are primarily pets, and because of this they must be well trained.  Despite our love for our canine companions, dog bites are still a leading cause of homeowner insurance claims. This is in part because we have taken working dogs who have significant amounts of energy and really need a job to do and have confined them to our homes and yards, often leaving them alone for long periods of time.

 

That being said, most modern dog owners do not face these issues if they properly train their dogs, exercise them, and use caution when introducing them to new people or other pets. We also repurpose the special qualities of different dog breeds to use them as companions, as vision guide dogs for those who are blind, support dogs for those with PTSD and anxiety, and helpers for those who are diabetic to warn them when their blood sugar is low.

 

While modern dog life looks much different than it did in the 1700s, this was the beginning of the adoption of dogs as man’s best friend.

The Hunting Dog

Even before the 1700s, we see dogs in many period films and literature. Most are the popular foxhounds and beagles, which is understandable. Both were used for fox hunting, a common sport at the time.

 

However, there were other hunting dogs as well. The standard poodles we show off now were bred to hunt bears, and terriers were bred to hunt badgers and rats. While rodent control is often seen as the job of the cat, dogs were also used at that time.

 

Fast dogs like greyhounds and whippets were used to chase down rabbits. Other hounds were used to help bring down stags and boars at a time when firearms were not nearly as powerful and reliable as they are now.

 

Even at that time, cross-breeding and mutts happened, and there were many spaniel/hound combinations that actually made great hunting dogs in their own right. Owners discovered that the better they treated their dogs, the better they performed in the field. Much of the art of the period features hunters standing proudly with their fine hunting hounds.

 

Toward the end of the 18th century, many of these hunting dogs were repurposed towards herding, a new skill they began to learn. Breeds that started as reindeer herding dogs at that time became the cattle dogs of Europe and the Americas.

The Companion Dog

The Pomeranian, much different than the ones we have today, made an appearance in the mid-1700s when Queen Charlotte brought them over to England from Siberia. Since then the breed has gotten smaller and been bred even more for companionship.

 

Pugs and poodles were also popular, although they too looked different at the time. These dogs were brought in and treated much more like members of the family than the hunting or working dogs.

 

That doesn’t mean the hunting dogs did not also become companions at that time. Many terriers became family pets, even though they were originally bred for hunting. The role of the dog evolved from a utility working animal, like a horse, to one you kept in the house and treated much like a friend. This compassion and development of relationships with dogs sparked the start of the animal rights movement.

 

This is one of the reasons that spurred the English Dog Tax debate in 1796. A proposed tax on dogs was perceived as treating them as objects and commodities rather than companions with rights. This love affair with dogs caused people to think about the welfare of other animals, so rather than just protecting their investment in horses and other livestock financially, the lines began to blur more than they had before between animals and humans.

The Dog in Art and Literature

The literature in the 18th century evolved due to the changing relationship between humans and animals as well, and authors like Jonathan Swift began to use animals to explore the questions of human identity and self-definition. The topics of friendship and love were explored through the use of dogs and other animals in modern literature for the first time.

 

Art was much the same. Portraits of dogs were created and hung alongside those of other human family members. Gentlemen had portraits of themselves painted with their dogs, and the women of the day began to do the same. Art began to not only include animals but much like the literature of the time, used them to explore humanity, love, and friendship.

 

The life of the dog changed a lot in the 18th century, from more utility hunting dogs to companions that became part of the family. Much of the way we interact with and treat dogs today came out of that time, and the breeds we know and love started to evolve toward the end of the 1700s. As the United States fought for its independence, dogs were quietly undergoing a revolution of their own.

About the Author

Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.