The Dog – Part I, Early History and Classification

In the mid 1800s, William Youatt wrote a book discussing the history, zoological classification, and medical recommendations titled simply “The Dog”. Since the copyright has long ago expired, there have been several versions reprinted, which you can find on such places as Amazon. However, if you are interested in reading the book, along with a little commentary from me to update old beliefs, etc. and are willing to get it in smaller chunks, I plan on presenting the first half of the book here on my pages. The second half of the book is dedicated to veterinary science at the time, and I will not be publishing that piece of the book, as the science has advanced way to far in that regard.

I present the book here for the most part unchanged from the original as edited by E.J. Lewis, M.D. I did take the luxury of taking words spelled in the European flavor and Americanizing them, however. I also edited some terms that are now considered to be in poor taste by replacing with the latest PC term. None of my edits changed the intent of the story as a whole though.

I will be publishing each sequential piece on approximately a weekly basis, so please check back often to get more!


Chapter 1 – The Early History and Zoological Classification of the Dog

The Dog, next to the human being, ranks highest in the scale of intelligence, and was evidently designed to be the companion and the friend of man. We exact the services of other animals, and, the task being performed, we dismiss them to their accustomed food and rest; but several of the varieties of the dog follow us to our home; they are connected with many of our pleasures and wants, and guard our sleeping hours.

The first animal of the domestication of which we have any account, was the sheep. “Abel was a keeper of sheep.”[1] It is difficult to believe that any long time would pass before the dog – who now, in every country of the world, is the companion of the shepherd, and the director or guardian of the sheep — would be enlisted in the service of man.

From the earliest known history he was the protector of the habitation of the human being. At the feet of the lares, those household deities who were supposed to protect the abodes of men, the figure of a barking dog was often placed. In every age, and almost in every part of the globe, he has played a principal part in the labors, the dangers, and the pleasures of the chase.

In process of time, man began to surround himself with many servants from among the lower animals, but among them all he had only one friend — the dog; one animal only whose service was voluntary, and who was susceptible of disinterested affection and gratitude. In every country, and in every time, there has existed between man and the dog a connection different from that which is observed between him and any other animal. The ox and the sheep submit to our control, but their affections are principally, if not solely, confined to themselves. They submit to us, but they can rarely be said to love, or even to recognise us, except as connected with the supply of their wants.

The horse will share some of our pleasures. He enjoys the chase as much as does his rider; and, when contending for victory on the course, he feels the full influence of emulation. Remembering the pleasure he has experienced with his master, or the daily supply of food from the hand of the groom, he often exhibits evident tokens of recognition; but that is founded on a selfish principle – he neighs that he may be fed, and his affections are easily transferred.

The dog is the only animal that is capable of disinterested affection. He is the only one that regards the human being as his companion, and follows him as his friend; the only one that seems to possess a natural desire to be useful to him, or from a spontaneous impulse attaches himself to man. We take the bridle from the mouth of the horse, and turn him free into the pasture, and he testifies his joy in his partially recovered liberty. We exact from the dog the service that is required of him, and he still follows us. He solicits to be continued as our companion and our friend. Many an expressive action tells us how much he is pleased and thankful. He shares in our abundance, and he is content with the scantiest and most humble fare. He loves us while living, and has been known to pine away on the grave of his master.

It is stated that the favorite lap-dog of Mary, Queen of Scots, that accompanied her to the scaffold, continued to caress the body after the head was cut off, and refused to relinquish his post till forcibly withdrawn, and afterwards died with grief in the course of a day or two.

The following account is also an authentic instance of the inconsolable grief displayed by a small cur-dog at the death of his master: – A poor tailor in the parish of St. Olave, having died, was attended to the grave by his dog, who had expressed every token of sorrow from the instant of his master’s death, and seemed unwilling to quit the corpse even for a moment. After the funeral had dispersed, the faithful animal took his station upon the grave, and was with great difficulty driven by the sexton from the church ground; on the following day he was again observed lying on the grave of his master, and was a second time expelled from the premises. Notwithstanding the harsh treatment received on several succeeding days by the hands of the sexton, this little creature would persist in occupying this position, and overcame every difficulty to gain access to the spot where all he held most dear was deposited. The minister of the parish, learning the circumstances of the case, ordered the dog to be carried to his house, where he was confined and fed for several days, in hopes of weaning him by kind treatment to forget his sorrow occasioned by the loss of his master. But all his benevolent efforts were of no utility, as the dog availed himself of the first opportunity to escape, and immediately repaired to his chosen spot over the grave.

This worthy clergyman now allowed him to follow the bent of his own inclinations; and, as a recompense for true friendship and unfeigned sorrow, had a house built for him over this hallowed spot, and daily supplied him with food and water for the space of two years, during which time he never wandered from his post, but, as a faithful guardian, kept his lonely watch day and night, till death at last put an end to his sufferings, and laid him by the side of his long-expected master.

As an animal of draught the dog is highly useful in some countries. What would become of the inhabitants of the northern regions, if the dog were not harnessed to the sledge, and the Laplander, and the Greenlander, and the Kamtschatkan drawn, and not unfrequently at the rate of nearly a hundred miles a day, over the snowy wastes? In Newfoundland, the timber, one of the most important articles of commerce, is drawn to the water-side by the docile but ill-used dog; and we need only to cross the British Channel in order to see how useful, and, generally speaking, how happy a beast of draught the dog can be.

Large mongrel dogs are very extensively used on the Continent (here we are talking about the European Continent) in pulling small vehicles adapted to various purposes. In The Dogfact, most of the carts and wagons that enter Paris, or are employed in the city, have one of these animals attached to them by a short strap hanging from the axle-tree. This arrangement answers the double purpose of keeping off all intruders in the temporary absence of the master, and, by pushing himself forward in his collar, materially assists the horse in propelling a heavy load up-hill, or of carrying one speedily over a plain surface. It is quite astonishing to see how well broken to this work these dogs are, and at the same time to witness with what vigor and perseverance they labor in pushing before them, in that way, enormous weights. Though, in our country, and to its great disgrace, this employment of the dog has been accompanied by such wanton and shameful cruelty, that the Legislature — somewhat hastily confounding the abuse of a thing with its legitimate purpose – forbade the appearance of the dog-cart in the metropolitan districts, and were inclined to extend this prohibition through the whole kingdom, it is much to be desired that a kindlier and better feeling may gradually prevail, and that this animal, humanely treated, may return to the discharge of the services of which nature has rendered him capable, and which prove the greatest source of happiness to him while discharging them to the best of his power.

In another and very important particular, – as the preserver of human life, – the history of the dog will be most interesting. The writer of this work has seen a Newfoundland dog who, on five distinct occasions, preserved the life of a human being; and it is said of the noble quadruped whose remains constitute one of the most interesting specimens in the museum of Berne, that forty persons were rescued by him from impending destruction.

When this friend and servant of man dies, he does not or may not cease to be useful; for in many countries, and to a far greater extent than is generally imagined, his skin is useful for gloves, or leggings, or mats, or hammercloths; and, while even the Romans occasionally fattened him for the table, and esteemed his flesh a dainty, many thousands of people in Asia, Africa, and America, now breed him expressly for food. (Believe it or not, dogs as food is still occurring in some areas of the world!)

If the publication of the present work should throw some additional light on the good qualities of this noble animal; if it should enable us to derive more advantage from the services that he can render – to train him more expeditiously and fully for the discharge of those services – to protect him from the abuses to which he is exposed, and to mitigate or remove some of the diseases which his connection with man has entailed upon him; if any of these purposes be accomplished, we shall derive considerable “useful knowledge” as well as pleasure from the perusal of the present volume.

Chapter 1 is 39 pages long in print, so will be broken down more here. I am trying to stay under 2000 words so you, my dear reader, are not bored in one sitting. If you enjoyed this start of the book, things will get more interesting in the next post, which includes Mr. Youatt’s version of the Origin of the Dog.

[1] Genesis 4:2, KJV

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