Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Dogs in public


It is evident that much capital is to be made out of dogs, otherwise Mr. E. T. Smith would not have thought it worth his while to call together such a fine company of competitors for canine honours as he has recently done. Twelve hundred animals, yelling, howling, and snarling, under the same roof! Our readers may imagine the chorus. And the company that collected to meet and do them honour, what a distinct section of the population! That man influences the dog, we had at the recent show a complete proof in the extraordinary instances of breeding evinced in the bull-dogs and terriers; but it may be doubted if dogs do not influence man in nearly as marked a degree. Why should the company of dogs dictate to a man the kind of coat, and hat, and trousers he shall wear; the nature of his necktie—nay, even the amount of the hirsute appendage he shall allow himself upon his chin, and the very expression of his face? That the canine race do dictate to man in these particulars, a glance at the style of the company present day by day at this show, was sufficient proof. What sympathy must there be between the two races to produce such mutual influences! We are not going to write an account of the Ashburnham Hall Dog-Show from a sporting point of view; for, in the first place, we are not of the fancy; and, in the second place, we don’t believe in the fancy. Jemmy Shaw, for instance, thinks that it is the highest effort of human skill to breed a terrier down to the size of his “Little Wonder,” or about four and a half pounds—“As beautiful as a racehorse, as hard as steel, and as courageous as a lion.” This process of reduction may be very interesting to Mr. Darwin, but we very much question its utility, and we altogether deny and disdain the standard of beauty set up by the “fancy” in matters canine. When one comes to think of it, does it not stagger one’s belief in the aspirations of mankind after the true and beautiful? Does not one doubt the truth of Keats’ line,

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,

when one sees our race of dogs reduced by extraordinary care to the utmost conceivable pitch of ugliness, and to find people—reputed to be knowing ones—actually believing in that ugliness as the acme of perfection and beauty? Thank God, the utmost effort of the breeder’s art cannot make anything but a noble gentleman out of the bloodhound. How judicially the few hounds of this class carried themselves! and how, with their deep-set eyes and solemn sad faces, they seemed to look down upon the crowd of bipeds collected to inspect them! We saw Mr. Boom’s “Rufus,” to wit, “taking stock” of two gentlemen dressed in tight trousers and Belcher handkerchiefs, and with hard, heavy jowls—just as Chief Baron Pollock might survey two felons in the dock.

The mastiff race we always understood had dropped out of the chain of animal life; but here they put in an appearance: though, we fear, not altogether a satisfactory one. There was evidently a good deal of the heavy Mount St. Bernard blood in many of them, and only two or three came up to our ideal of the old English mastiff—lithe, powerful, and long in the body, with something of the panther in their movements, and with a jaw firm and solid, but far less heavy than those possessed by the hippopotamus breed shown as mastiffs. “Rover” and “Bran,” selected by the judges, were near the mark, but not quite up to it. The Newfoundlands were, with scarcely an exception, mongrels. Indeed, any very big dog with a curly coat is believed to be a Newfoundland; and if his name is “Sailor,” and if he will fetch a stick out of the water, that is evidence enough to the public generally that he is a thoroughbred one. The Mount St. Bernards, again, were of all shapes and sizes.

As regards the sporting dogs, any one who knows the value of good animals of this class will not be surprised to find that the best in the country were not represented here. Indeed, dog-shows have not yet made such way among us as to entice the great sporting magnates to send their dogs, and only a second class of animals was to be expected.

The silver cup, value fifty guineas, and the second prize, value twenty-five guineas, were not competed for; the offer was not likely to tempt Badminton or Belvoir. Pointers were very well represented, and the prize dog, “Ranger,” was really a noble animal as regards form. How he would work in the field is, however, quite a different matter. English setters were very badly represented, but the black and tan Irish dogs of this class were really beautiful animals. Retrievers were very plentiful: indeed every person who possessed an animal of this kind, apparently sent him for the mere vanity of saying he had competed, and possibly for the sake of obtaining a free entry. It is a great pity that some method of selection was not adopted, as dog-fanciers did not go to see 1200 indifferent dogs, and the public generally would have been better pleased with a third of the number. However much owners may be delighted, Mr. Smith must take care that his next show is something better than a collection of household pets. We could not help noticing, however, No. 373, a Russian retriever, with a very odd long, wiry coat, very much like that of a Scotch deer-hound. Among the quaint dogs present there were some very clever-looking fox-terriers with uncut ears, just like those of bats: these and the beagles, and the Clumber spaniels attracted a great deal of attention. After these small dogs, and indeed after everything also in the show, the boar-hound, at the top of the large room, astonished the visitors. This powerful animal, with limbs like those of a lion, stood at least four-feet high, and his fangs were something terrible to behold. This dog is of the true breed of boar-hounds which we see in those powerful pictures of Snyders and Rubens,—heroic animals, by the side of which our sporting-dogs are insignificant pets.

With the dogs in the large hall “the Fancy” proper were little interested; it was only on entering the smaller shed running parallel with it that this class of the genus homo showed itself. Each bull-dog and bull-terrier of eminence had its master present, who appeared to be a kind of inferior appendage to the animal itself. In the large room there were a few powerful bull-dogs which maintained the character of this class as an animal of physical power as well as of surpassing pluck; but in the little room they grew “small by degrees and beautifully less,” until some of them appeared to be but a four-legged kind of tadpole, all head and jaw. The bull-terriers were equally small, but as a rule, finely bred, and of a high class. The London breeders have brought this dog to the highest perfection, and we may say the same of the black and tan terriers, of which there was really a splendid show. The changing fashion in pet dogs is one of the notable things of the time. A dozen years ago no lady was complete without her Blenheim or King Charles spaniel. There were plenty of these breeds present, but as a fashion they are decidedly on the wane, and the Maltese and the pug are now in favour among the haut ton, whilst Dandy Dinmonts and Skyes find congenial homes among the upper middle-classes. Some of the Maltese were too ethereal to be handled, and were fenced off from the rough public by glass cases. One large case contained a pure white Maltese, with his back hair parted with a perfection that could not be matched by Lord Dundreary. The Skye terriers were, on the whole, below par, but the pugs must be considered fine, as they were so very ugly. The little five-pound terriers and the Italian greyhounds shivered continually, and watered at the eyes, as all of these little high-bred, thin-skinned, over-nerved animals do; but the ladies much admired them, and therefore we must not be hard upon them, we suppose. We have heard of blue boars and blue lions, but we confess we were puzzled at the heading “Blue Scotch Terriers” in the catalogue. The black has certainly a shade of blue in it, like that on a raven’s wing, and there is a reddish tinge, which gives the dog a very odd appearance. The real curiosities of the Exhibition, however, were found among the foreign dogs. It brought to mind at once the pictures in Arctic voyages and travels to look at some of the little Esquimaux dogs—fat, short little fellows, with fox-like heads, and bushy tails curled tight over their backs. “Etah,” a very large dog of this class, suggested a sad tale, as he is the only survivor of a pack used by Dr. Kane in his search after Sir John Franklin.

We can readily understand a dozen of such fine fellows as this, doing weeks of heavy sledging-work, but the physical powers of the smaller Esquimaux dogs seem scarcely up to such heavy work, unless employed in large numbers. Possibly this exhibition introduced first to the British public a dog we are all familiar with in books of travel, but whom very few of us have seen—a thoroughbred Australian dog, or dingy. A nearer likeness to a wolf we never saw, and his appearance certainly suggests that he is the missing link between the dog and that animal. There was a truffle-hunter to be found in this odd corner—a queer little fellow apparently of no particular breed. The wolf-hounds shown here seemed but light animals to tackle such an enemy; but we are told that the sire of the specimen exhibited by Mr. Frank Buckland is known to have killed several hyænas and wolves in the neighbourhood of Constantinople. A common hound to be found in Turkey and Asia Minor—the scavenger of the country, in fact—was also exhibited here, and attracted a good deal of attention. It seems to us that dogs abroad are pretty much in a state of nature, if we except the French poodle, who does such credit to the canine peruquiers of that country: and with this state of nature they seem to have retained a degree of vigour which our breeders are sacrificing to produce certain qualities which are not compatible with the general health and energy of the animal, and consequently with his powers of reproduction—a matter which dog-fanciers may not care about, but which, if true, proves that we are working upon a wrong system, which, sooner or later, will correct itself.

A. W.