Jane Austen and Dogs

Jane Austen and Dogs

Normally, it’s not terribly difficult for me to come up with a good blog post. This month was different. I have had so many things on my mind lately, about writing and reviews and author notes and Elizabeth Bennet’s character and the differences between JAFF and regular Regency romances and on and on…that it was a struggle to come up with something to write about that would be both interesting and non-controversial. In the end, I decided to write about something that has been at the forefront of my mind for the past couple months: dogs.   

Once I chose my topic, my first thought was to write about Boxers, which is the breed I have. Unfortunately, the first boxers were not bred until the late 1800’s, and so would not have been in existence in Jane Austen’s time. There were, however, many other breeds. Some, like my Jasper and Selena, were pets. Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park had a pug. Others, like Willoughby’s two pointers, were working dogs, generally being a great part of the hunt. Henry Tilney had a large Newfoundland puppy and two or three terriers. His were companion dogs like Lady Bertram’s pug was. As far as hunting dogs, almost every male character in a Jane Austen novel…seems to have at least one. I’d say that dogs were pretty popular back then, as they are now.

English Bulldog then and now

Specific breeds common to Georgian/Regency England were, obviously, pugs and pointers. Other common breeds were English Bulldogs, Dalmatians, English Mastiffs, Great Danes (which are one of my favorite breeds), Pomeranians, and Spaniels. To my great surprise, many of these breeds looked differently back then than they do now. For example, the Pomeranian that Queen Charlotte brought to England was something like 30 pounds. Today, the breed is a lot smaller…3 to 7 pounds. Even pugs are different…smaller and more wrinkly. Some of the changes, like those in mastiffs and bulldogs, were the result of the outlawing of dog fighting and bear baiting and the like.


Pomeranians then and now



It occurs to me as I end this post, that readers might like an update on the gate situation. I am happy to report that, while not totally finished, the gates are up so I can use them. They are held closed with a bungee cord and the garbage can is laid on its back to block the empty space at the bottom of the one side, but the dogs are leash-free and happy…and so am I! 🙂  








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18 Responses to Jane Austen and Dogs

  1. (Here I am just now reading some blogs sent nearly a year ago. Sorry but at least I didn’t delete them. I just get too many and don’t get to them if I am deep into the book I am reading that day.) My husband is allergic to cats and dogs. I have a parakeet. But growing up we always had cats and dogs. They were like members of the family and slept on our beds. We has one boxer but many mutts from the SPCA. I would love to have a large dog but on cold days like today I am glad I don’t have to walk a dog early in the morning or even in the middle of the day. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’ve always loved the mastiffs. So huge and noble, they seem the perfect breed to roam the estate lands of Pemberley, guarding for poachers and keeping the family safe. Who in their right mind would mess with a mastiff? LOL!

    Now, me personally, I’m more of the Pomeranian type. 🙂

  3. No Cats or Dogs here. We did have lots of reptiles though. And since the tortoise died last year, now all we have is an occasion fly or mosquito. I’m so happy for you Zoe that you have the dogs. Happy Writing! Jen

  4. I have two Shih-tzu mixes (all of my dogs are pound hounds that I got as adults (I also have a Yorkie)- no housebreaking or chewing!!!) and the Shih-Tzu was not introduced into Europe until the 20th Century or I suspect that Mrs. Bertram would have had one. Asian lap dogs tend to have short muzzles and that look was very popular in Jane Austen’s time and through the rest of the 19th Century. In fact, some English breeds, like the King Charles Spaniel, were bred for shorter and shorter noses until they had smooshed faces. In the early 20th Century an American breeder started buying up KCSs with the longest noses with some back-breeding with cocker spaniels, to try and re-develop the original spaniel so loved by King Charles II. Unfortunately, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is very inbred and has a host of genetic problems…everyone I know who has had one has had it die at a young age from heart disease (ours developed heart failure at age 11 and I know someone whose died of a heart attack at age 5!). Ours was also deaf by age 5 and had a lot of neurologic problems from day 1. The Yorkie, on the other hand, would have been considered a very low class dog and no fine lady like Lady Bertram would have considered having one for a pet! Yorkies, like all terriers, were bred to work, in their case to kill the rats and mice in the cotton mills and coal mines of Yorkshire. They could kill a rat as big as they are (and still can!!). They just don’t realize that they are tiny!! 😀

    • Thanks for sharing that interesting information! I have a very good friend, who lived with me off and on for two years, who had a Shih-Tzu that thought it was a human! That little dog was personality plus! 😀 My friend was devastated when her little honey died last summer.

      My dogs came from a boxer rescue organization. It was not my first inclination to get a rescue, but after much prayer, I felt led that way, and I’m really glad I did! 🙂

  5. I have two dogs. A Labrador cross and an Irish Wolfhound. They are the best of buddies as they both arrived at our home on the same day aged eight weeks old. The Lab is the boss and it’s always been so funny watching him scouting around and the big guy trotting along behind. The big guy is getting old now and slowing down a lot. I dread to think what will happen when he goes. The Lab will be lost!

    • I so worry about Jasper when Selena goes! I don’t know that I can do the puppy thing again. I’m not as patient now as I once was. I can only imagine how grumpy I’ll be in a few years!!

      I have seen Wolfhounds at dog shows…they are massive! LOL I bet it’s cute to watch yours hanging out with your Lab! 😀

  6. I’m very glad to hear the dogs are leash free and happy, and that you are as well (happy, that is, not leash free. I mean, I hope you are but that’s really not . . oh, never mind . . . 🙂 ). I can’t imagine trying to work with dogs, but hope someday to find out what it’s like. We have two cats and a kitten (she’s actually almost two now) and they make it difficult enough to work (with their adorableness and constant desire to play).

    You know, the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was in 1877. That’s not really that long after Jane Austen’s time.

    In general, my family is a big fan of terriers. My parents have a Cairn Terrier, Skye Terrier and more than one Norwich. In the past they’ve also had a Scottie and a Yorkshire. The Norwich is a newer breed from the British Isle, comparatively speaking, but the Skye and Cairn Terriers are both old Scottish breeds from the 1500. I believe both originated on the isle of Skye, but could be wrong about that. I’d love to write them into stories, but I don’t think Terriers were usually pets, but rather working dogs (mostly on farms to hunt vermin). Also, I don’t know how the English felt about Scottish breeds. I’ve never tired to figure that out 🙂

    I hope your writing is going well with the fence 🙂

    • Oh, my writing! ~Sigh~ It seems the dogs are quite attached to me and are only now, a couple weeks into it (I added my post to the blog 10 days or so ago) going out without me for more than five minutes. And then only if it’s not raining or snowing. By the time I get relaxed and focussed enough to write, they need out again! So, starting tomorrow, it’s back to the library for me!

      My neighbor has a terrier…and Airedale. She’s a big girl…but very quiet. His Jack Russell on the other hand….

      I love the info about the Terriers from Scotland! I’d also be interested in knowing how the English felt about Scottish breeds. There were so many out there, even in England, that I had to limit myself or risk being overwhelmed and writing a book instead of a blog post! And the changes….I was amazed at how different some are now than they were back then!

      As for me and being leash free….it depends on the leash, whether I’m happy or not! 😉 LOL 😀

  7. I’ve been following the……shall we say “exploits” of your canine friends on Facebook, Zoe. Glad to see your two seem to be settling in OK. If a dog can find it’s way of of your property, it will. Our two certainly did, several times, even though we thought we’d thoroughly dog-proofed the boundary! They’re quite large (German Shepherd/lurcher cross) and they can jump quite high, so all of our walls and fences had to have an extra topping of appropriate materials.

    Thanks for such an interesting post about our canine friends/companions/assistants.

    • LOL Those two have kept me on my toes, that’s for sure!! I was so excited when the gates went up and we went two whole days with zero potty messes in the house…then it rained and then got frigidly cold and we were back to square one! 🙁 However, we are learning to sit before we get anything…food, the toys tossed, let out of the pen…and when the door is opened. I was SO PROUD of Jasper Saturday night, when he quietly sat and stayed when Pizza Joe’s delivered my food! Selena is already good about it, but Jasper is so curious. All that to say that just when I think I should have gotten a cat, they go and do something awesome! <3

      I still worry a bit about the chain link fence in the back, but it belongs to the church and cemetery (yes, the neighbors behind me are VERY QUIET 😉 ) and it’s at the top of a rise…my whole backyard goes uphill. My dogs don’t seem to be jumpers and i’m not sure they could get enough traction to get over it, unless they took a running leap. I guess I’ll find out sooner or later, huh? LOL

  8. Zoe, I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m also glad to know that your fur babies are happy and safe.

  9. We just had a similar discussion on The Beau Monde as to what dogs were appropriate for the Regency period.
    As my favorite dog is an English Springer Spaniel. Although they have been spoken of since the late 1500s, the breed, as we think of today, came from the Norfolk spaniel.
    At some point in time, both cocker spaniels and springer spaniels were born in the same litters. The purpose of the breed was to serve as a hunting dog. The smaller cockers were used to hunt woodcock, while their larger litter mates, the springer spaniels, would “spring”—or flush—the game bird into the air where a trained falcon or hawk would bring it to the handler.

    • I saw that discussion, but was too timid to participate. I guess those folks all seem like such experts on the Regency and I’m just little old me. Not sure I would have anything valuable to contribute. 🙂 It made me laugh, though, that they were discussing it at just the time I was putting my post together. LOL

      My cousin loves cocker spaniels, and has always had at least one. I didn’t realize they were hunting dogs, though! How interesting that they were born in the same litters way back then!! Thanks for sharing that information…I will keep it handy. Maybe I can use it and Summer’s terrier stuff to use in a story one day, since I can’t use boxers. 😀

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