|A beautiful Pekingese|
Dogs have been man’s best friend for millennia,
working alongside their masters as guard dogs, hunting companions, protectors
and herders among other things. But what
about woman’s best friend – the lap dogs?
Since I own the type of dogs that are small and decorative rather than
useful, it made me wonder when our canine friends began to evolve into pure
luxury items and why.
Obviously, they must have been bred for people who had
lots of time on their hands and required them merely as play things or
companions. I thought perhaps they
evolved to entertain spoiled, rich ladies such as Lady Bertram in Jane Austen’s
Mansfield Park, whose Pug has no
purpose other than keeping her company. But when I tried to find out more about
this subject, I read that recent genetic studies have shown that some types of
lap dog have been around for almost as long as the working ones. I have to admit this surprised me!
Most lap dog breeds originated in the Far East and one
of the oldest types around are the Pekingese, who seem to have been bred
specifically to fit inside the sleeves of their Chinese owners. Presumably they acted as portable heaters -
much better than a warm brick which loses its heat very quickly! (If I’d been a Regency lady I would have made
sure I had a dog on my lap when travelling by carriage in winter, that's for sure). These friendly little dogs are very docile
and would be perfect for this task. They
are also ideal companions, affectionate and happy to spend time indoors, rather
than walking briskly.
My dogs, Tibetan Spaniels, are closely related to the
Pekingese and in old Victorian photos the two breeds look almost identical. Although imported to England as lap dogs in
the 1880s by the Hon. Mrs McLaren Morrison, the Tibbies were originally used by the Tibetan monks as guard dogs, so
they did have some useful purpose. Mine
still fill this function, always alert and ready to challenge anyone who dares
to approach our house (although once inside, they greet visitors with almost
overwhelming friendliness). The Lhasa Apso,
Shih Tzu, Japanese Chin and King Charles
Spaniel all come from the same background too, as does the Pug.
|Hogarth and his Pug (photo from Wikipedia)|
Just like the Pekes, Pugs are a very old breed,
apparently brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company and subsequently
adopted as favourites by the House of Orange.
King William and his English wife Mary had Pugs and when they took over
the English throne in 1688 they made these dogs very popular in the UK. What was called a Pug then seems to have
differed quite a lot from the dog we see now, however, as this Hogarth portrait
shows! The flat face we know and love is
completely absent and was obviously bred into these dogs at a later date.
Since Lady Bertram’s Pug in Mansfield Park appears to be as lazy, selfish and useless as its
owner, I suppose one can argue that lap dogs have no real value other than as
status symbols. Famous people like Marie Antoinette and Napoleon’s wife
Josephine both owned such dogs, which to their detractors allegedly symbolized their idleness. I prefer
to think there was more to it than that.
To me, and the many other so called “toy” dog owners, they do have several very important purposes – to give you friendship, affection and companionship.
When I write, my dogs lie quietly by my side, happy to wait until I have
the time to take them for a walk. They
greet me with enthusiasm whenever I return from somewhere and if I’m sad, they
empathise and comfort me. It must have been
the same for bored Regency ladies and I can easily imagine a little lap dog
would have enriched their lives.
As for me – I couldn’t live without mine!
Labels: Lady Bertram, Lap dogs, man's best friend, Mansfield Park, Pekingese, Pugs, Tibetan Spaniels, William Hogarth