CHAPTER I. GENERAL HISTORY OF THE DOG

There is no incongruity in the idea that in the very earliest period of man's habitation of this world he made a friend and companion of some sort of aboriginal representative of our modern dog, and that in return for its aid in protecting him from wilder animals, and in guarding his sheep and goats, he gave it a share of his food, a corner in his dwelling, and grew to trust it and care for it. Probably the animal was originally little else than an unusually gentle jackal, or an ailing wolf driven by its companions from the wild marauding pack to seek shelter in alien surroundings. One can well conceive the possibility of the partnership beginning in the circumstance of some helpless whelps being brought home by the early hunters to be tended and reared by the women and children. The present-day savage of New Guinea and mid-Africa does not, as a rule, take the trouble to tame and train an adult wild animal for his own purposes, and primitive man was surely equally indifferent to the questionable advantage of harbouring a dangerous guest. But a litter of woolly whelps introduced into the home as playthings for the children would grow to regard themselves, and be regarded, as members of the family, and it would soon be found that the hunting instincts of the maturing animal were of value to his captors. The savage master, treading the primeval forests in search of food, would not fail to recognise the helpfulness of a keener nose and sharper eyes even than his own unsullied senses, while the dog in his turn would find a better shelter in association with man than if he were hunting on his own account. Thus mutual benefit would result in some kind of tacit agreement of partnership, and through the generations the wild wolf or jackal would gradually become gentler, more docile, and tractable, and the dreaded enemy of the flock develop into the trusted guardian of the fold.

In nearly all parts of the world traces of an indigenous dog family are found, the only exceptions being the West Indian Islands, Madagascar, the eastern islands of the Malayan Archipelago, New Zealand, and the Polynesian Islands, where there is no sign that any dog, wolf, or fox has existed as a true aboriginal animal. In the ancient Oriental lands, and generally among the early Mongolians, the dog remained savage and neglected for centuries, prowling in packs, gaunt and wolf-like, as it prowls to-day through the streets and under the walls of every Eastern city. No attempt was made to allure it into human companionship or to improve it into docility. It is not until we come to examine the records of the higher civilisations of Assyria and Egypt that we discover any distinct varieties of canine form.

Assyrian sculptures depict two such, a Greyhound and a Mastiff, the latter described in the tablets as “the chained-up, mouth-opening dog”; that is to say, it was used as a watch-dog; and several varieties are referred to in the cuneiform inscriptions preserved in the British Museum. The Egyptian monuments of about 3000 B.C. present many forms of the domestic dog, and there can be no doubt that among the ancient Egyptians it was as completely a companion of man, as much a favourite in the house, and a help in the chase, as it is among ourselves at present. In the city of Cynopolis it was reverenced next to the sacred jackal, and on the death of a dog the members of the household to which he had belonged carefully shaved their whole bodies, and religiously abstained from using the food, of whatever kind, which happened to be in the house at the time. Among the distinct breeds kept in Egypt there was a massive wolf-dog, a large, heavily-built hound with drooping ears and a pointed head, at least two varieties of Greyhound used for hunting the gazelle, and a small breed of terrier or Turnspit, with short, crooked legs. This last appears to have been regarded as an especial household pet, for it was admitted into the living rooms and taken as a companion for walks out of doors. It was furnished with a collar of leaves, or of leather, or precious metal wrought into the form of leaves, and when it died it was embalmed. Every town throughout Egypt had its place of interment for canine mummies.

The dog was not greatly appreciated in Palestine, and in both the Old and New Testaments it is commonly spoken of with scorn and contempt as an “unclean beast.” Even the familiar reference to the Sheepdog in the Book of Job—“But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock”—is not without a suggestion of contempt, and it is significant that the only biblical allusion to the dog as a recognised companion of man occurs in the apocryphal Book of Tobit (v. 16), “So they went forth both, and the young man's dog with them.”

The pagan Greeks and Romans had a kindlier feeling for dumb animals than had the Jews. Their hounds, like their horses, were selected with discrimination, bred with care, and held in high esteem, receiving pet names; and the literatures of Greece and Rome contain many tributes to the courage, obedience, sagacity, and affectionate fidelity of the dog. The Phoenicians, too, were unquestionably lovers of the dog, quick to recognise the points of special breeds. In their colony in Carthage, during the reign of Sardanapalus, they had already possessed themselves of the Assyrian Mastiff, which they probably exported to far-off Britain, as they are said to have exported the Water Spaniel to Ireland and to Spain.