Joanna here. My last posting looked at truly ancient dog collars and leashes. Paleoleashes. Classical collars. I promised to return to this vital issue and speak of the Medieval and early Renaissance versions of what the well-dressed dog was wearing.
We know there were extravagant dog collars out there in theMedieval world, continuing a tradition of lavish dog decoration that stretches back to the ancients.
The favorite greyhound of Louis XI of France (1423-1483), for instance — named “Cher Ami”— was decked out in a collar of scarlet velvet embellished with pearls and rubies.
(Some of these pictures are small, but if you click on them they get full sized.)
But leaving aside the follies of the nobility . . . what was the average dog wearing? The working dog? The any-old-dog-on-a-farm dog? The sheep-keeping dog?
Going by available images, it looks like about a quarter of house and farm dogs, all guide dogs, (yes, they did have them in Medieval times,) and a sensible majority of sheep dogs are wearing some sort of simple collar.
To get a good close look at the types and technology of dog collars we go to the hunting field.
There is a generous sufficiency of paintings of hunting dogs from this time
period, hunting being an endeavor practiced by those who can afford to hire artists. The process of hunting, as practiced by Medieval aristocrats, seems to have involved dozens of skilled field technicians and their even more skilled dogs, The leaading dogs seem to be the ones collared and leashed.
This was not so much like a Regency fox hunt. There, as I understand it, a pack of unleashed dogs was let loose to race across the countryside, yapping, followed closely by a pack of folks on horses, ballyhooing.
My intensive study of Medieval hunting practices— about ten minute’s worth — reveals that Medieval hunts were a relatively few folks riding horses while a great many more specialized dog handlers jogged about in the underbrush, untangling tangled leashes, being pulled along by the dogs. After the boar, deer, bear, wolf, unicorn, or whatever was sighted, the dogs were loosed to chase it down and jump on it.
This is perhaps an oversimplification of historical hunting techniques. We will hurry right along and get back to talking about what the dogs were wearing. Back to the canine fashion show, as it were.
Medieval dog collars were leather with metal buckles and tongues. They
resembled the people belts of the period, or modern belts for that matter. Most were dyed black or bright colors — red or yellow. Many were studded with elaborate decorative metalwork.
The leashes were rope or braided leather attached to a metal ring in the collar. Sometimes, near the attachment, the leash would have little studs to keep the dog from chewing on it.
One thing that strikes me, looking at the collars, is how wide some of them were. With this we come to another way Medieval hunting differed from Regency hunting. As mentioned above, Medieval quarry were somewhat larger and more dangerous than anything roaming the English countryside in 1800. Medieval dogs were expected to attack formidable prey and bring it down. The wide collars protected vulnerable dog necks.
Spiked collars go a ways back. We have a few specific mentions of them in the Classical period and what may be a mosaic showing one, though I can’t get a sufficiently detailed image of it to make sure.
These first spiked-collar sources refer to dogs defending sheep. The earliest reference may be this one dating to the Phyrgians (750-300 BCE.)
". . . a graffito on a wall leading to an outdoor lavatory shows that most ferocious of Anatolian animals, the kocabas (big-head)) sheepdog with a spiked collar as a protection against wolfes."
Mellart, J., Archeology of Ancient Turkey, London 1978
Another Classical reference:
“In order to scare the wild beasts away, they are armed with ring shaped collars covered with nails”
Varro (116-27 BCE), De re Rustica II,9,15
We have physical evidence of spiked collars from Viking boat graves in Uppsala, one circa 750, one in the 900s, so the Viking lords took their dogs with them to Valhalla. I suspect it was to hunt wolves, rather than herd sheep.
And here are paintings of French hunting dogs, all spiked-collared up and raring to go, mano a mano, with the big guys.
Spiked collars lead us onward to where i've kinda been heading — to early, rare instances of actual dog clothing.
Sometimes, when the Lord of the Manor sent his favorite hunting dogs out to face bear and wild boar and other thugs of the animal kingdom, he provided them a layer of protection. On the left is a sort of padded coat.
It’s hard to tell what those suits are made of. The one on the left looks like a mail shirt. Can it be that? The padded shirt above left . . . I’m guessing it’s quilted linen which provides protection without
sacrificing the nimbleness so useful in wrestling wolves. The foot soldier of the time went into battle wearing something not much better.
But among the many, many illustrations of dogs taking down dangerous animals we just don’t see many dogs in armor. They had the technology, but they didn’t use it. I think the final tradeoff between agility and protective dog clothing came down on the side of agility. This “dressing the dog up to go attack bears” never really took off.
But I have been looking for the origins of dressing dogs up.
Horses were caparisoned for festive, significant events. They wore their house colors. They became part of the display. Symbolically they were loyal servitors.
Dogs also got into the whole presentation bit. Here’s a couple of fine hounds showing off the colors of their house.
So. If you were a Medieval person, keeping your little sheep in a countryside that included a cast of hungry wolves and bears, would you stand your ground next to your bright-eyed dog and defend your sheep like a heroic protagonist . . .
or would you choose the better part of valor?
If you’re looking for my answer you may find me running downhill, back to town.