Wednesday, January 8, 2014

18th Century Small Dog Breeds

The French naturalist, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon had a lot to say about animal taxonomy in the 1700s, including where dog breeds came from, both geographically and genetically. He concluded, incorrectly, that stray dogs in foreign places such as the New World and Africa were originally of purebred lineage that devolved due to bad living conditions- "loosing their hair and ability to bark"- when in fact they were the ancient dogs from which purebred dogs evolved.
Missing Link Dog
He deserves more respect.
But that's not a criticism.  Geneticists still can't figure out where dogs evolved or exactly which wolf is their direct ancestor, proving just how strange and complex our little buddies really are. To be fair,  much of what the naturalists said about European breeds is in fact historically accurate, telling us an awful lot about what people were like, too.  This is what Buffon had to say about three popular 18th century dog breeds.

"The bastard pug dog is a double mongrel from a mixture of the pug dog with the little Danish dog."[At that time the word mongrel meant a hybrid - a mix with two purebred parents.]

"The Alicant dog [Alicante is an ancient  Spanish city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea] is also a double mongrel, proceeding from the pug-dog and small spaniel." [This would be the brachyacephalic type of what today we call the King Charles Spaniel.]

The Lion Dog
Today it's called a Pekingese
The Naked or Turkish Dog
Probably what today we call the Chinese Crested.

Buffon added, "Lately there are dogs which may be called triple mongrels, because they are produced by two mixed races. Of this kind are the Artois [a scent hound] ...which is produced by  the pug-dog and the bastard pug-dog; to which may be added the dogs called street dogs, which resemble no particular kind because they proceed from races which have previously been several times mixed."

A triple mongrel meant the grandparents were purebred; the parents hybrid and their offspring were double hybrids.  Until the late 19th century when kennel clubs required "purity" in registered breeds, this type of mixing was done intentionally to maintain health and vigor in dogs.

(Illustrations in this post are from a 1750 print by Alexander Bell, published in the Encyclopedia Perthensis or Universal Dictionary of Knowledge, 1816. The photograph of the village dog is courtesy of Ray Coppinger.)

This is a good piece on Buffon and Dogs in The Bark magazine.

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