Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - the dog as pet

The cold front that was meant to hit Sydney today has so far held off. It's been cold, but bright. Some clouds are now appearing in the west, but it looks as though the change is still some distance away. Just as well. Youngest has been moving house today.

This week my meanderings took me to the dogs, quite literally. This is a photo of a working kelpie.

Why dogs? Well, the problems of puppy farming has become a significant issue, leading to a campaign to have the practice stopped.  Searching for a topic for my history column, I thought that I would have a look at the changing approach to pets and, more specifically, dogs.

I have always liked kelpies. As children, our one and only pet was a red kelpie called Rover.The dog died from snake bite one year while we were on holidays, He was a true kelpie, capable of going over high fences, able to break our grandparents' chooks up by breed, herd them into corners of the yards and then lie there panting, clearly saying to the hens now behave.

What I hadn't realised until I started researching the topic was just how recent our love of pets is.Certainly
there were people who loved pets, including dogs. My grandfather was  a dog person. In his case, I think, cats were a second order animal. Dogs were, indeed, man's best friend. However, dogs as pets began to emerge in the nineteenth century. Prior to then, dogs were seen as working animals.

This was actually the world I grew up in. None of my friends had pets. It is only now, looking back, that I realise this. The dogs that I saw most often were working dogs. Indeed, we were instructed not to pet them because they were working days. The few cats I knew were frightening because they scratched.

It seems that the idea of dogs as pets is predominantly an urban phenomenon that exploded from the 1970s. Of course there were pet dogs before that. I have given two examples. Still, the idea of pets as a mass phenomenon does seem to be very recent, as is the idea of puppy farms.

Another theme that seems to emerge in the material I have looked at is the importance of breeds and breeding. Again, this seems to be quite recent, dating to the nineteenth century. This quite artificial, dogs as ornaments. In the case of the Kelpie, for example, two breeds seem to be emerging The first is the show kelpie that must meet physical conformity requirements. Here appearance is critical. The second is the working kelpie where performance, not physical appearance, is the requirement.

I'm not sure where I am going in all this. It's simply another voyage of discovery.


Anonymous said...

the very best Australian Cattle Dog has just a touch of Dingo, every farmer knows this but will never ever admit to it hehe

Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh; where to start on this! I don't think you ever knew Boss, but you certainly crossed swords with Bloody Sally, the world's most spoilt Labrador bitch. You must have found the treatment of Sal a bit odd, if you were not familiar with spoilt indoor dogs. I can't remember if we still had cats, then or not, but although loved, they played about 4th fiddle to BS. She later shared the household with a wonderful Red Heeler (absolutely bits of dingo in the first crosses) unimaginatively named Rusty. He was a foundling - about 10 weeks old when he was picked up- and the light of Mum's life. The worst thing he ever did was make a 'statement' when I went to Stockton for the first time with baby Tim (No 1 son). He(ie Rusty)crapped on the floor just outside my bedroom door, and I walked in it! PSW and I always had cats. The 1st 5 were strays who decided we looked like suckers, and settled in. After one particularly traumatic loss, in A'dale, as it happened, we acquired, for money, our first chosen kitten. This began our love affair with Abyssinians, and I can't imagine life without one. Don't go to sleep; there is a point to this drivel. Eventually, No 1 and partner acquired a Siberian Husky (as well as having cats), who was a lovely gentle boy, but didn't make me want to get one. Sibes are after all a helluva lot of work. Fast forward, and a couple of years ago, No 2 and partner came for a visit with their then 10 month old English Springer Spaniel. He was such a sweetie, that hmmmm, do I need a dog thoughts began. A couple of months after that, his aunt came up for sale, having finished her show and breeding career. We had 24 hours to decide. The result is that Hannah the Spaniel joined the menagerie. She is just fabulous, and the epitome of the 'pet' dog, without even vaguely approaching the horrible stereotype of the petted/lapdog. The physical/mental benefits of companion animals are well known, and documented. Perhaps one reason for the modern rise of the pet, is the ease of desexing. No horrible smelly tomcats, no calling queens, no packs of dogs running after bitches, and no bitches with unwanted pregnancies. Now, I'm getting to the point; you raise the issue of working and show strains, using Kelpies as an example. Many breeds have similar divergent strains: Labradors are famously sniffers, bomb detectors, guide dogs, retrievers; beagles are sniffers and hunters, and ESSes; working ESSes that is, are sniffers (check out the pix outside the hospital with Kate etc), TRUFFLE DOGS, game flushers and retrievers. They are physically different from showies; you may even mistake them for different breeds.
Miss Hannah (who has just become a Nanna) is definitely a showie. Her retired role is to look beautiful, attract attention and dispense affection.

Jim Belshaw said...

He he indeed, anon. Even truer for the kelpie. That reminded me of an old Australian phrase that I remember but couldn't trace, something along the lines that he has a bit of a dingo in him.

Jim Belshaw said...

That comment made me smile, JCW. You have always been a doggie person.

You are certainly right on the companionship question. You may be right on the desexing question, although there is a chicken and egg question there. With an increasing proportion of Australian people renting (landlords greatly dislike dogs)and/or living in high rise, I wonder what will happen to pets and especially dogs.

Neighbor opposition in combination with council rules largely wiped out the backyard hen, although there has been a minor come-back recently. The increasingly complex (and costly) rules in regard to the keeping of both dogs and cats are already having an impact. My feeling is that dogs as pets in particular passed their peak some time ago and that dogs that are kept will increasingly be those suitable for constrained urban living. We may be going back to the lap dog!

Interesting examples of working vs show dogs. Miss Hannah is clearly suited to her role!

Anonymous said...


I'm sure there was an urban-rural divide on the keeping of dogs as pets, which is partly an agricultural/non-agricultural divide on attitudes to animals.

For example, my parents had a cat - I'd say they acquired it some time between when they built their house and when the first child was born. There were then 2 - the extra one was a kitten, I think. At some point, after 3 children were on the scene, the cats "ran away." This coincided with a trip back to WA to see relatives and my by then dying paternal grandfather in particular.

It was only almost 50 years later that my father told my elder sister that he had in fact shot them both. After shooting the first one, he learnt to put the cat in a box first.

You know, a man is supposed to shoot his own dog and all that. Generally, as in Of Mice and Men, that is meant to be when it is old and sick, though I expect surplus kittens were fairly regularly drowned.

My father grew up on a rural property. My mother grew up in a country town and I think they had animals in a more companionate way but not, I expect, ever allowed in the house.

I agree that desexing was one thing that probably made a difference to attitudes about pets, as well as better means of controlling fleas.

Rummuser said...

I am very much a doggie person and from childhood, have had the company of dogs. I have Chutki about who I blog often and have a blog written on behalf of her as well.

If you visit the breeders here, you will also get on to the bandwagon of shutting them down. My son and daughter in law are deeply involved in animal rescue and the number of abandoned specimens past their breeding life that I have personally seen is an experience that I wouldn't wish on more sensitive souls.

There are humane breeders who do it with something akin to free range poutlry farming and I have no problems with such breeders. Most however are not and they do need to be shut down.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi marcellous. They are very interesting anecdotes that certainly seem to fit with my broad perceptions. Ramana, That's an interesting Indian perspective. All this will help me do a little further research.