The dog, always assisting humans

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Dogs have been at our sides in every stage of human history and prehistory. Guardian, hunter, everyday helper – they have been given more and more roles in the course of time.

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Hunter then devil

Since Antiquity, dogs have fulfilled various roles in activities as diverse as hunting, war, sled-pulling and religious rites. Dog breeding was pioneered in the Roman Empire, known as the “home of a thousand breeds,” which were mainly used as companions, guard dogs and hunters.

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Hunting was their main function in the Middle Ages, although they continued to be used on the battlefield. Dogs became the companions and assistants of lords, who were principally involved in war and hunting. The future horseman had to learn to care for and train his horses, and also his dogs.

In the 15th century, one of them, Phoebus, wrote a superb, richly illustrated treatise on hunting with dogs. Crossbreeding was practised to produce dogs with endurance, aggression and the senses needed to find game.

It was around this time that dogs were banished by the Catholic Church. Some saw them as one of Satan’s preferred incarnations, a carrier of rabies that devoured corpses and howled at night. Catholic bishops were even prohibited from owning a dog, to ensure that the faithful were not bitten.

Playmate and source of energy

During the Renaissance, while more than ever a hunting companion, the Italian influence meant that dogs also started to take part in more carefree activities, such as being a playmate for children. Some authors, like Erasmus in his Adagia (around 1500), railed against “these dogs with no other utility than the distraction of spoilt, idle matrons”

Dogs were also used as a source of energy since the Middle Ages, in “dog wheels,” which became widespread in the 18th century. The principle was simple: the dog was made to run inside the wheel to drive various instruments, such as bellows, roasting spits, knife sharpeners, wood lathes, butter churns and even sewing machines. There are testimonies in French affirming to the use of 400 dogs in a nail factory in the Ardennes in 1879 and in a cutlery works in Châtellerault in 1919.

Canine explorers

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Dogs continue to assist humans in hunting, guarding and protection today, but they have also diversified into new fields, including exploration. Both North and South Pole expeditions have involved sled dogs. Dogs started to explore the skies, as well, and in 1785 Blanchard demonstrated the use of a parachute for safely disembarking from a hot-air balloon, testing the recent invention on a dog from an altitude of around 1600 feet. Dogs were to go into outer space within two centuries, in the guise of the Soviet canine Laika who “manned” Sputnik 2 in 1957.

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The dog, always assisting humans
    The dog, always assisting humans

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