The 18th Century Dog

I watched a fascinating show last night, BBC ‘Horizon: The Secret Life of the Dog,’ and got to thinking about dogs of the past, and what is a “period correct” dog. I think this is a question that pops up in every dog-owning costumer’s mind, at some point, when considering if his or her dog could attend faires and events…I suppose as a costume “prop?” I know I’ve thought about it…

So what are some dogs we’d see in the 18th century?

Hunting Dogs

Foxhounds and Beagles are the be expected, but many kinds of spaniels and setters were also popular. Many dogs were bred for specific kinds of hunting – for instance, standard poodles were for hunting bears, while terriers were for vermin, badgers, and rats. Greyhounds and whippets were used to course rabbits, and hounds to bring down stags and boars.

A small spaniel, maybe a Brittany

An English Spaniel or a Springer Spaniel, a hunting scene by Gainsborough

A hound, although looks a bit like a spaniel, with those ears.

A hound – a pack of these would have been used to run down this stag.
Foxhounds, by George Stubbs

Companion Dogs

One dog in particular kept popping up in portraits, a dog that looks like a samoyed, but is actually a Pomeranian. A far cry from what they’ve been reduced to today, the original Pomeranian was about 30 lbs., and was the favorite pet of Queen Charlotte, who brought the dogs from Siberia to England in 1761.The white pomeranian seems to show up quite a lot in Gainsborough’s work
Here they are again…
This is Fino, the Prince of Wales’ pomeranian.

Other breeds such as poodles and pugs were popular then as they are today, but some looked significantly different. Marie Antoinette’s “Mops” we all know as the fat little pug from the 2006 movie, likely looked more like this…

We are familiar with other toy breeds from the 18th c., such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Bichon Frise, Pappilons, and various terriers (this last being a group of dogs that were bred for specific hunting, but became the pets of the aristocracy)

George Stubbs’ portrait of a Spanish dog belonging to Mr. Cosway, 1775, my best guess is Pappilon
Queen Charlotte, with what looks like a King Charles’ Spaniel
A delighful painting by Fragonard (if not a little voyeuristic?). Not sure of the breed, but looks like some kind of poodle?
Another interesting painting by Fragonard, the woman with an odd costume (maybe for theater?), with her lapdog, possibly a pappilon

Other Dogs of Note

Of course, many many other breeds were in England and throughout Europe in the 18th c. Greyhounds were ever popular with the upper classes, and large working breeds such as Newfoundlands, Collies, and Sheepdogs were useful to the lower classes and bourgeoise. Interesting breeds such as the Dalmatian were used to accompany carriages (this is where the ubiquitous Fire Engine Dog image comes from), while Mastiffs, bloodhounds, and bulldogs were employed by the police to help keep order.

Dalmatian, with the carriage in the background.
A Newfoundland, by Stubbs

For thousands of years dogs have been our companions and assistants. It’s fascinating to see them appear in portraits, next to famous 18th c. figures, or all on their own. They were as beloved and essential to the people of the 18th c. as they are to us today (perhaps moreso), and ought not to be overlooked when we think back on and study this time in history.


  • Anna Cotton

    February 17, 2010 at 8:39 PM

    The American Kennel Club and Dog Breed Info Center have information about breeds and origins. Usually the Dog Breed Info Center has more information about origins etc.

  • Abby

    February 17, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    Those big Pomeranians look like american eskimo dogs or Skipperkies (sp?) not tiny, not large and furry furry furry! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cool post!!

    Oh and thanks for the shout out with the video!! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Olympe de la Tour D'Auvergne

    February 17, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    What an appropo post considering our last discussion. Reinette and I have enjoyed all the dog portraits posted here. Oddly enough the Cavaliers (like her) were bred in the modern era to look like the spaniels in the portraits because the original breed had died out.

  • Lauren R

    February 17, 2010 at 11:51 PM

    Anna, you're totally right, and dog origins are super fascinating – there are so many breeds in Europe we don't have in the USA.

    Abby, I agree, they do look very much like samoyeds and American Eskimos. NOW looks at them – they kindof resemble ewoks nowadays, haha (but I won't lie, I secretly adore poms)

    Comtesse, yes it was totally a combination of the show I watched and the bit we shared about Reinette that got me thinking. My grandmother had a King Charles, and they always seemed like the perfect little aristocratic dogs ๐Ÿ™‚

    As for me, well, my dog is not at all historically accurate unless I were dressed as a Mongol or Asian princess, which, uh, wouldn't exactly work with my, uh, features ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Finegan Antiques

    February 18, 2010 at 4:03 AM

    Beautiful paintings and beautiful dogs. I wonder how the artist got the dogs to sit and behave for the length of time required to capture their image? But what about the 18th century cat? Surely they weren't relegated to the barn for a life of catching mice.


  • Robin Gallowglas

    February 18, 2010 at 5:19 AM

    I used to love to bring my Greyhound to events with me. She always looked so elegant. I wish I had gotten a portrait of her with me in garb before she passed away…

  • Lauren Stowell

    February 18, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    Finegan – I did find one portrait in my searchings that had a cat in it, so I'm sure they were for pets as well! (perhaps it is your calling to do a post on 18th c. cats?)

    Robin, I can't help but love sighthounds (Avi being of that same general shape). I could do a sketch of you two, if you like, if I have photos of the both of you (don't have to be together).

  • Duchess

    February 18, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    Miss K, it does look just like one. All the description said was that it's a "spaniel" by stubbs, and the Comtesse in her comment above mentions that modern Cavaliers were bred in modern times because the original breed had died out. I wonder if they were similar to the pomeranian and pug in that they looked rather different? I do agree, though, it does look spot-for-spot like a King Charles.

  • JiminSF

    May 24, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    The dog in the Gainsborough painting looks like an Irish red and white setter. This was the original Irish setter, from which red Irish setters were bred. They are frequently depicted in 18th Century hunting/pastoral scenes, often paired with a Gordon setter.


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