In history

As this month marks the anniversary of the first ever Crufts and as it is believed that one in every four households in Britain has a dog, including our own Mrs Hudson, we thought we’d take a brief look at the history of how the dog became man’s best friend.

It is thought that the evolution of dogs as we know them today can be traced back over 50 million years. It is believed that the earliest identifiable remains of a pure-bred dog were those of a saluki – which get their name from a town in the Yemen. Archaeologists also found rock carvings of dogs that bear a strong resemblance to the saluki that date back to around 7,000 BC. So, we can conclude that dogs have been part of the family for a really long time. In fact, in some cultures, they were considered to be such good friends to their owners, that they were sacrificed at funerals and buried alongside their owners to help them on their path to the afterlife.

Historians have also found that dog domestication has been taking place since prehistoric times. There is evidence to suggest that cavemen would tempt dogs into their caves by offering them food and shelter and in return, the dogs would guard their homes, aid in hunting and even work by pulling sleds or helping with other tasks. There is also some evidence to suggest that selective breeding between different canine species would have begun in this era too, something that continues to this day. Though we have the evidence to say that dogs were part of family life before humans had even really created language, the word ‘pet’ in regards to dogs only really came into use in the 16th century and for a time in the 1700s, dog ownership was in decline. This was partly because a tax was brought in for those households who had dogs, leading to dogs being rehomed or even in some instances, killed.

By the Victorian era, dogs were firmly back in the good books. While Crufts wouldn’t appear until 1891, there were dog shows taking place as early as 1859. The first English dog show was held in Newcastle that year. Pedigree breeding was formalised, the Kennel Club were founded and the world’s first dedicated mass-produced dog food also came onto the market.

Crufts was founded by Charles Cruft, who incidentally, worked for the company that created that first mass-produced dog food. Cruft was known for being a great showman, though he was far from the focus of the show. The show celebrated the unique relationship that dogs share with their owners, something which still exists today, and judges are trained to ensure that only healthy dogs are awarded prizes to encourage responsible breeding.

Cruft’s work with dogs began in 1876 after leaving college with no desire to join the family business. Instead, he started working at a company producing food for dogs and soon moved up the ranks to become a travelling salesman. This brought him into contact with sporting kennels and more, which saw him travel across Europe, leading to him helping to set up the canine section of the Paris Exhibition in 1878. Once he’d returned to England, he began managing the Allied Terrier Club Show in Westminster and then later, in 1891, Crufts was born. The very first show took place in the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington London.

Crufts took place every year up until the First World War, when it took a 2 year break. Eight years after its return, the show introduced the Best in Show award, the inaugural winner was a greyhound called Primley Sceptre.

Speaking of firsts, the first female owner to win Best In Show was in 1932, with her Labrador, Bramshaw Bob.

Charles Cruft died in 1838, with his widow, Emma, taking over the running of the show. After a break over WWII, Crufts joined forces with the Kennel Club and Emma Cruft handed over the management of the show to them. Their first show in 1948, was held at London’s Olympia and had 84 breeds entering, double the number that appeared in the show in 1891. The first televised event took place two years later in 1950 and has been gracing our screens ever since. In more recent years, the show has taken place at the NEC in Birmingham and features hundreds of entrants and more categories than ever.

It wasn’t just shows like Crufts that started to emerge during the Victorian era. Rehoming and rescue charities also started to make an appearance, the most famous of which, Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home being one of them.

One of the biggest fears of dog owners today is the threat of dognapping, but this isn’t a new phenomenon either. In fact, dognapping has been taking place since the Victorian times too, back then, thieves would steal dogs and then ransom them back to their owners, something that happened frequently to the wealthier members of society. In 1846, while on her way to her secret marriage to Robert Browning, the poet, Elizabeth Barrett’s dog was stolen for the third time and she had to take a detour to East London to pay the ransom and retrieve her dog.

Aside from being domesticated for the working classes and beloved by the wealthy, dogs have long been a staple for Britain’s royals too. King Charles II was known to spend more time playing with his dogs than he did running the country – hardly surprising that he lends his name to a certain breed of spaniel really; Edward VII’s fox terrier was part of his funeral procession; Edward VIII gifted a cairn terrier to Wallis Simpson during their courtship and more recently, Elizabeth II is rarely seen without a dog or two trotting along behind her.

As a nation of dog lovers, you’ll find lots of heritage properties welcome dogs to their grounds, so the whole family can enjoy a trip out. If you want to find out about great dog friendly places, check out Mrs Hudson’s recommendations here or our dog friendly places here.




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