People and dogs have an ancient history. Before we had cattle, and even before we had ever seen a cow, we had canine companions. Both the new world and the old world are home to dog remains dating back at least 12,000 years, buried in the company of their human masters. Dogs were domesticated early, so it is not surprising that some of the earliest recorded laws dealt with their relationship with man. The Egyptians had laws that regulated the ownership and treatment of dogs from the early Pharaonic times.
In China the "Lion Dog" gained status as the official dog of the Imperial Palace. This at a time when dogs were a staple of the local peasants' diet, but anyone caught harming an Imperial dog could be punished by death.
Ancient lion dog with beautiful belled dog collar
The ancient Persians had laws that could punish anyone killing a dog with 500 to 1000 lashes. Even feeding a dog bad food could result in 50 to 200 lashes, depending on the breed and social status of the dog. But when did we start decorating our dogs, restraining them, and identifying them with dog collars? We'll take a look at dog collars from the ancient to the post-modern, and see how history and our changing attitude toward animals has influenced the way we collar our pooches.
Persian statue of lion like dog with dog collar showing that it was domesticated and had an owner.
Everyone has heard about how much the Egyptians loved their cats, but they owned dogs as well. In fact, even though dogs were not as revered in the home, they served more often than cats as gods and as symbols. Dogs were never depicted as "pets," but always as hunters or protectors, however, just as cats and precious possessions would be mummified with their owners, so too would the canine hunting companions.
Ancient Greek rhyton in the shape of a dog's head, made by Brygos, early 5th century BC. Jérôme Carcopino Museum, Department of Archaeology, Aleria Look at the dogs wide dog collar, used already for the typical long shaped necks of the Sighhounds.
By the peak of ancient Egyptian civilization, collaring and leashing was standard in dog training, and collars by themselves had been in used since the pre-dynastic era. The dog collars of the day were oftentimes works of art in themselves.
Images from collar-queen.blogspot.com.
Farm dogs in ancient Greece wore similar collars to the spike-studded ones their medieval successors would wear. A sheepdog, which had to be white in order to be visible at night, was given a leather collar studded with nails, called a melium. This protected his furry neck from the bite of a wolf as he defended his flock. Greek farmers, like many modern dog owners, preferred their dogs to be fierce, but not overly aggressive. They had to be tough enough to attack intruders but friendly enough not to turn on their handlers. It is interesting to note that while the sheepdogs had to be white, the farmhouse dogs had to be black -- so they could conceal themselves better to surprise intruders.
The small and friendly Alopekis (from www.dogbreedinfo.com) Ancient Greeks continued to fawn over their dogs like the Egyptians before them and like most civilizations after them. In towns, small friendly dogs called Alopekis were the constant companion of women and children, and even used to "herd" small flocks of geese or whatever the family raised in town. Supposedly the women would carry the tiny pups in the sleeves of their garments as they went marketing. Women were denied an active civic or social life, so the dogs may have been a very important source of companionship. The descendants of these dogs still roam the streets of Greek cities today.
While mythological dogs did not often wear dog collars, their stories give us insight into how people perceived and treated their dogs in antiquity. The Greek myths also showed much respect and appreciation for the loyalty of their dogs. Odysseus' dog Argos waited twenty years for him to return, even though the old dog had long since been cast out of the house for being flea-bitten, decrepit, and covered in ticks. Since no one else recognized the aged Odysseus, Argos identified him with a wag of the tail, and then dropped dead after waiting twenty years to perform one final duty to his master. Even the Greek-derived term "cynic" comes from "dog." It had both positive and negative connotations for the Cynic philosophers, they lived in the streets and were uncouth like dogs, but they were loyal to their friends and could easily identify and deal with an enemy.
The Pompeii Dog is a fine example of the continued devotion between a dog and its master. The dog's collar was examined with infra-red, and it was found to be inscribed with a message documenting the dog heroically saving his owner from a wolf attack.
Doggy devotion in ancient Rome was so intense, that Caesar reportedly had to publicly reprimand citizens for paying more attention to their dogs than to their children. Shown here is an ancient Roman mosaic showing a nicely collared and leashed dog. These mosaics were very common in public places, showing up in halls, on sidewalks, and in city squares.
Mosaic of hunting dog with hunting collar fighting with a Lion.
In the Medieval Ages, dogs were used mainly as hunters and shepherds. Their collars became more utilitarian to match their new duties. Simple leather was used for boar hunting and hare hunting dogs, as an identifier and probably as a means to attach a leash when the dog was not hunting. During the hunt however, the hunters would use a stick rather than a leash to control the dog. This is perhaps because the humans did not wish the excited dogs to get too near to them.
The growing middle class could now afford dogs, and pets were no longer a royal or noble luxury. To collar the dogs, more affordable materials were needed. Leather collars without much decoration were the norm, and rings for leads and name tags began to dangle from street dogs around Europe. By this time the widespread dog ownership called for ordinances, and a system of dog registration and licensing was born. Decrees were sometimes issued stating such laws as an obnoxious dog found without a license could be killed on the spot, or declaring that large dogs should have toes removed, in order to slow them down and protect the royal's game. The availability of money and materials led to innovation in collaring for upper class dogs, but not always to the dog’s advantage. The only advantage provided by such collars as the ones pictured here was preventing the dog's throat from being crushed. The fact that the dog had to wear the collar in the first place indicated the kind of activities in which he was involved. Fighting dogs and hunting dogs used as bait were common. Henry VIII used dogs as ill-fated but effective warriors. Only one Mastiff survived Henry's most famous dogs vs. men battle, and he was given a silver collar.
The shepherd dogs wore spiked collars to protect their necks from lurking wolves. This was a good use for the spiked collar, and invention made possible by the advances in metal- working. However, spiked collars were also being used in wolf hunting, where the dog would be sent toward the wolf as bait and canine casualties were expected. Some of these collars may have been sufficient protection, but it is lamentable that many dogs lost their lives to this unnecessary sport rather than in the line of duty protecting a flock. Wolf collars or protection collars are metal collars fitted with large spikes radiating away from the dog, usually worn by dogs protecting livestock in case they are attacked by wolves or other predators. Such collars protect the neck of a dog from direct attack. It is rare to see these collars being used in modern societies.
A collar for a bait dog, used in wolf hunting Kent dog collar museum
A fighting dog's collar
images from dogco.com
After centuries of servitude, the dog was still considered a piece of property. Even though many noble men and women had lap dogs as well as working dogs, sentiments about animals were not what they are today. Cruel practices like baiting with dogs, dog fights, sending messages inside dogs stomachs (which would be cut open to obtain the documents), and vivisection were still acceptable. The 16th Century philosopher Descartes prolonged this attitude, when he argued that animals are like machines, that any cries they make in response to pain, for instance, are like the groan of a machine that's stopped working. But thanks to continued scientific (and hopefully less painful) studies of animals and the counter-philosophies that came along in the 18th Century "Age of Enlightenment," dogs would soon regain their ancient place as noble companions.
In 1789, Jeremy Bentham, one of the first proponents of the animal rights movement wrote:
A full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? Nor can they talk? But can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes. This sentiment was the start of many laws regarding treatment of animals by both strangers and owners, and centuries of humans becoming quite attached to their dogs.
Another type of collar made popular in this era was the padlock collar, a hinged piece of metal, sometimes with rolled edges for the dog's comfort, with a padlock dangling in front. Only the owner possessed the key, and by unlocking the collar he could prove his ownership. In the Renaissance age of excess, where possessions and objects ruled, many dogs were treated as just that. It would be several centuries before the modern dog lover would make his debut.
image from www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/info/jb.htm
The Greyhound is one of the most ancient dog breeds going back to probably 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, always seen as an aristocratic animal; nobles would allow them into their private rooms and even take them to church with them. At varying times throughout history people who were not of noble birth were not allowed to own one. Some were sight hounds that could see prey from a long distance and others could sniff out a trail. The one pictured is a fairly typical Greyhound that can be found today. Always with a wide narrowing leather collar or with a simple leather choke collar or a Martingale collar which had a longer section usually made of leather, chain, or nylon, joined through loops by a circle of chain or leather to which the leash is fastened; pulling on the leash tightens the collar, but the wide section both prevents the chain from tangling in a dog's coat and prevents the collar from being pulled tightly enough to cut off the dog's airway. These dogs were amongst the earliest breeds to be using fashionable dog collars not for a practical reason only also to enhance their beauty and in that way also make its owner seem more important.
The Mastiff was the choice guard dog for centuries. Particularly obsessed with change, the dog would become quite agitated and bark whenever the status quo was compromised. Though big and strong, it is a gentle giant and would rarely bite intruders, preferring to sit on them instead. In the picture it appears to be three times the body weight of the seven-year-old future Charles II, who makes the regal gesture of placing his hand on the head of the mighty beast. He is wearing a extra wide strong leather collar probably with brass elements. Anthony Van Dyck, Children of Charles I, 1637.
King Charles II with his popular fashionable Spaniels later named King Charles Spaniels. Dogs where now an important asset of the Royal family and different breeds became in fashion purely for the joy of their company. They wore dog collars to match their owners outfit.
It was during this period that decorative collars, rather than sadistic ones, again became the norm for the privileged dog. With new technologies, beautiful silver, gold, and brass collars could be fashioned and stamped or engraved, or leather collars adorned with sparkling bells. Collars typically bore the name of the owner, rather than the dog. This was the easiest way to have your dog returned to you! In this age of printed materials, if a dog went missing owners could now offer rewards. In the 18th Century rewards ranging from 20 shillings to 20 dollars have been documented. Pleas for the safe return of beloved hounds were found everywhere from newspapers to printed posters. In place of the owner's name it became fashionable to have a witty saying carved into your dog's collar. Also, exquisite collars were fashioned and custom engraved for the winners of shows and competitions. Again, the owner's name would be emblazoned on the collar, with perhaps a casual mention of the dog's name at the end of the verbose dedication. The most well-known etching was on the collar of a puppy presented to the Prince of Wales by poet Alexander Pope that read “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew, pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”
What a great love for dogs already! Early photography; Imprint of F. Girard, Gloversville, A studio portrait of a Chihuahua operating an early bellows camera with subject a Greyhound seated on hind legs; both dogs are live and not stuffed and each is wearing matching leather and metal collars, quite a difficult shot for any photographer. America
Another testament to our love of dogs in this era was the new trend of writing elegies and epitaphs for our deceased critters, not to mention the great increase in dog portraiture.
image from www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/info/jb.htm
This Regency Brass Dog Collar, circa 1815, is personalized with the name ‘KARO.’ The pierced collar, backed with red leather and complete with a brass padlock, sold at Christie’s in London for $5921 in 2009.
In 1800 a belled collar was latest fashion for small and large breeds just like in ancient China.
American early 20th century brass and leather collar with dog head mounts. Dog collars like this would last a life time because of its strong thick leather and unbreakable metal parts in brass.
Union Jack wears a double leather collar for Bullterriers from the fire department. When the firefighters from the Fifth Avenue Fire House in Pittsburgh joined up with the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry, they brought their mascot, a brown and white Bull terrier who became known as Union Jack and carved out his own placed in Civil War history. When his soldier friends were fainting from thirst, Jack would always run ahead and upon discovering a pool of water would rush back, barking loudly with the news. When the soldiers struggled to stay alive on their five-day ration of five crackers, Jack went into action and would catch chickens for them.
The dog collars of modern time has everything you can dream of, colors, materials, crystals, metals and creative design all to please and match with the dog’s owner. But it’s funny because you can still see the ancient times reflected in many fashionable modern dog collars. Before a dog collar was normally made by a craftsmen a shoe maker or saddle maker today they are carefully designed to meet the market of a certain fashion or special breed. Well the most important of all is the conclusion that dog collars have and will always be proof of a certain care from the owner to its dear dog.