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Dog Ownership History in the U.S. (Part 1) From Dire Wolves to Divine Dachshunds


Winter fun in Massachusetts, circa 1910. (Copyright 2022 by Anthony Cavo. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.)


Welcome, dog lovers, history buffs, and everyone who enjoys a fetching tale to the first part of our two-part series about dog ownership in the United States! Today, we embark on a journey through time to uncover America's paw-some history with dogs. From dire wolves of Native tribes to divine dachshunds of the elites, this journey is packed with tales of companionship, utility, fashion, and showbiz.


In Part 1 we'll cover:


So, sit, stay, and fetch your sense of nostalgia as we tell the ruff and tumble story of how the history of dog ownership has evolved since the early days of the U.S.


 

First Dogs Of America - The native tale (pre-15th century)


[History and vintage photos of Native American dogs | Image citations @ whitewolfpack.com]


Let's travel back in time to when America was home to numerous Native tribes and their four-legged companions. Dogs ownership in these societies was about more than just pets; dogs held significant roles as hunters, haulers, and spiritual beings. Not only did they help in tracking and trapping game, but some tribes also recognized them in their mythology and folklore.


These Native American dogs, aka the original American Top Dogs, were more than just fashionable companions. They were esteemed members of the tribe and a crucial part of daily life, long before the Euro Pooches stepped their paws on American soil. From pulling travois (oh-so-vintage transportation devices) to assisting in hunts, these dogs proved that they were not just man's best friend, but also the coolest coworkers.


Adorned as vibrantly as their human counterparts, these domesticated dogs -- numbering over 300,000 when the first European explorers arrived -- were a symbol of pride and a testament to the strong bond shared between Native Americans and their tail-wagging buddies -- a historical bond that established a lasting culture of dog ownership in the U.S.


Beautifully dressed Native American man and his dog pulling a travois.
Beautifully dressed Native American man and his dog pulling a travois. [Photo: State Historical Society of North Dakota]

 

The canine colonial clash - settlers' furry friends (15th-18th Century)



Things got a bit ruff when European settlers introduced their dogs to the New World. Spaniels met coyotes, hounds encountered wolves - the first international doggy meet-and-greet! Each breed brought by settlers had specific roles, which led to an exciting mix of skills and traits that we see in American dog breeds today.


Funny fact - some settlers brought over "Turnspit Dogs", a now-extinct breed used to run on a wheel to turn meat so it would cook evenly. Talk about a hot dog!

The turnspit dog is an extinct short-legged, long-bodied dog bred to run on a wheel, called a turnspit or dog wheel, to turn meat.
The turnspit dog is an extinct short-legged, long-bodied dog bred to run on a wheel, called a turnspit or dog wheel, to turn meat.

("The dog wheel" circa 1890, drawn in E.F. King's Ten Thousand Wonderful Things. Courtesy, Jan Bondeson.)


 


Dog in top hats and corsets - the furry class divine (19th century)


(Copyright 2022 by Anthony Cavo. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.)


Fast forward to early American society, where dog ownership in the U.S. started to symbolize social status. The wealthy flaunted their pedigree pooches like fashion accessories while farmers valued working dogs for their hardiness and utility. Who wouldn't want a sheepdog that could also pull off a velvet bow?


Ever heard of a dog wearing a top hat and tailcoat? 🐶🎩 Well, the 19th-century elite sometimes dressed their dogs to match their own high fashion. Poodles in Parisian couture, anyone?


 

Spotlights and standards - the rise of purebreds and showdogs (late 19th - early 20th century)


The Best American-Bred winners of 1937
The Best American-Bred winners of 1937 | Image: AKC Library and Archives

Finally, let's step into the glamour-filled world of dog shows. This stage not only promoted breed standards but also shaped our perceptions of breeds. Thanks to these events, we now know that Labradors are friendly, poodles are posh, and bulldogs mean serious business!


The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, America's second-longest continuously held sporting event, began in 1877 - before the invention of the lightbulb! In its early years, it was a whopping five-day event with over 1,200 entries! In 1939, over one-million Americans paid admission to attend AKC shows exhibiting over 100,000 dogs across the country -- a number that has yet to be surpassed!


So, while the 1930s began with the Great Depression and ended in World War II, this time period also fostered an endearing bond between dogs and their owners that continues to this very day!

 

Thank you for reading Part 1 of Dog Ownership History in the U.S.!


But before you bark up the wrong tree, remember this is just the first half of our journey. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll see dogs transition from industrial age workers to being hailed as integral family members, and even celebrities!


Share this paw-some history with your friends and fellow dog lovers! 🐶🐾 #DogHistory #AmericanDogHistory




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