Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Central Police Canine Training Unit in Poland Used for Large-Scale Study of Drug Dogs

Shepherd Working in Unfamiliar Location (courtesy T. Jezierski)
Scientific research is frequently constrained by a laboratory’s funding level and available personnel, as well as such factors as the time limit within which a graduate student must gather data for a thesis.  This often means that the number of animals that can be evaluated is severely restricted to only a few, as can be noted in many studies involving the ability of dogs to detect chemicals, diseases, contaminants, wildlife, etc. 

Instead of bringing a few dogs into the laboratory, Dr. Tadeusz Jezierski and colleagues at the Polish Academy of Sciences were given access to the central canine training unit of the Polish police and gathered an immense amount of data from tightly controlled trials of dogs that had already been deemed fit for field work.  Statistics were gathered concerning 68 dogs and over 1,200 experimental searching tests (517 with Labrador retrievers, 440 with German shepherds, 203 with terriers, and 59 with English Cocker spaniels).

Vehicle Sniff (courtesy T. Jezierski)
This allowed an analysis of the relative effectiveness of specific breeds used by the Polish police (most effective to least: German shepherds, English Cocker spaniels, Labrador retrievers, terriers), and established which drugs are most accurately indicated by the dogs (in order from most easily detected to most difficult: marijuana, hashish, amphetamine, cocaine, heroin).  The trials were run at training centers where the rooms were familiar to the dogs and in stables and storerooms that were not familiar to them.

Many new aspects of working canines came to light while others have been known for years. As an example, contrary to the belief of many police dog handlers, the dogs performed equally efficiently in both known and unknown locations.  It was also possible to determine how long residual drug odors were detectible by dogs working at different types of sites.  As contributors to the study, we are constrained by the Journal’s author agreement in how much we can say here, but the article is now posted on the website of Forensic Science International.   

Jezierski, T., Adamkiewicz, E., Walczak, M., Sobczynska, M., Gorecka-Bruzda, A., Ensminger, J., and Papet, E.  Efficacy of Drug Detection by Fully-Trained Police Dogs Varies by Breed, Training Level, Type of Drug, and Search Environment.  Forensic Science International, 237, 112-118.   

This blog was written by L.E. Papet and John Ensminger.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Detecting Fecal Contaminants on Produce, a New Occupation for Sniffer Dogs

My wife and I recently flew from Paris to Atlanta.   While we were waiting to pick up our luggage to go through customs, a handler with a beagle began to walk beside the carousel, sniffing bags that had been removed from it by passengers.  I assumed at first the beagle was a drug dog, then noticed the screen suspended above the carousel, which actually showed a short film about the beagle. There was no sound, but the film was subtitled, like a silent movie.  “What is the beagle doing?” the screen asked.  Then there were pictures of various food items—a head of lettuce, a bunch of radishes, a package of meat.  Then X’s crossed out each item to let anyone watching know that these items were forbidden.  The dog was shown sniffing a suitcase and sitting down in front of it and looking at the handler.  The suitcase was then opened by the overly willing passenger (probably an ICE officer in civilian clothes), revealing a bunch of radishes. (Think twice before you try to smuggle radishes from France.) 

Another agricultural use of dogs was recently described in the Journal of Food Protection, and quite likely foreshadows a new industry for dog trainers and handlers. 

Fecal Contamination of Produce

Microbes, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, can get onto fresh produce through feces of rodents, birds, and other animals.  The feces can be put directly on the produce by the animals or can be brought into a field or factory through irrigation or processing water.  A group of researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis and from various facilities of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have published a paper analyzing how effective dogs might be in detecting fecal contamination of produce.  

The team had three dogs trained for the experiments, all mixed-breed females.  Dog 1 and Dog 2 were given what was called “indirect detection training,” under which the target scent was a sterile gauze pad saturated with a mixture of feces and water.  The feces were collected from vertebrate species commonly found in or near agricultural fields, specifically dog, cow, horse, black-tailed deer, feral pig, coyote, Canada goose, sheep, and human. Dog 1 and Dog 3 were given “direct detection training,” under which dogs were trained to recognize fecal contamination of romaine lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and whole Roma tomatoes placed in specimen storage containers.  Thus, Dog 1 received both types of training, but Dogs 2 and 3 only received one or the other. 

Indirect Detection Trial Procedures

In the indirect detection trials, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, or tomatoes were put into 30 bags, and 8 of those bags were filed with either 0.025, 0.25, 2.5, or 25 grams of feces (two bags at each amount).  Gauze pads were suspended were suspended by strings were suspended inside the bags but not in contact with the produce for 24 hours.  The gauze pads, which were 4-ply cotton pads, were removed after a day and separated to create separate samples. The samples included gauze pads from bags in which there was no fecal contamination.  Samples were placed in special holders in three rows of 10, with contaminated samples distributed randomly. Trials were double blind as the dogs, the handler, and the data recorder did not know which samples had pads with fecal contamination.  The handler made sure the dog examined each holder.  For each alert, the dog was rewarded with some time with a chew toy.  Care was taken to remove secretions—at least obvious secretions—by dogs sniffing close to holders. 

Direct Detection Trial Procedures

For direct detection trials, 8 of 30 bags of produce had feces added, but in amounts of 0.0025, 0.025, 0.25, or 2.5 grams.  After the first trial, the largest amount was dropped and an even smaller amount, 0.00025 grams was added.  Instead of three rows of ten, as in the indirect detection trials, there was one row of 12 containers, which were different than those used in the indirect detection trials and had holes drilled in the top shortly before a trial began.  To avoid rewarding the dogs for an incorrect response (which had been possible in the indirect detection trials), the dog was praised verbally for an alert during the direct detection trials.  

Indirect Detection Results

In the indirect detection trials, Dogs 1 and 2, the ones used in these trials, missed detecting fecal contamination in most samples where the gauze had been exposed to fecal contamination.  Dog 1 was nearly twice as effective as Dog 2 in alerting to pads from samples that had fecal contamination, but also alerted more often to pads that had not been in bags with fecal contamination.  Both dogs were more likely to detect fecal contamination on Roma tomatoes than on cilantro or spinach.  When the produce in a bag was contaminated with 2.5 grams of feces, the highest possible amount, both were considerably more accurate.  However, the results indicated that this procedure, as conducted in the experiment, was not effective.  

Direct Detection Results

When dogs were able to sniff the produce itself, as opposed to a gauze pad that had been kept near the produce for 24 hours, they were much more accurate.  This is not surprising as there was presumably a higher odor concentration using this approach.  Here, each dog sniffed 720 containers, 156 of which contained some amount of feces.  The researchers found that “Dogs 1 and 3 had 11.1 and 23.6 higher odds of alerting, respectively, when encountering treatment samples compared with control samples.”  Dog 1 was significantly more likely to incorrectly alert in the presence of a control sample than was Dog 3. 

The amount of fecal contamination proved to be crucial.  When the amount of contamination was greater than 0.025 grams, the probability of detection achieved 75%, and reached almost 100% at 2.5 grams: 

“In other words, for samples with ≥0.025 g fecal contamination, the probability of collecting samples of produce with fecal contamination is 5- to 30-fold higher (500 to 3,000%) when using a dog than when randomly selecting produce samples across a field, as is sometimes done during investigations.”

Implications for Agricultural Inspections

The advantage of the indirect detection approach was that vegetables were not exposed to the dog, which prevented cross-contamination between the dog and the sample.  The researchers note that unfortunately this approach “did not result in acceptable levels of sensitivity for any but the highest levels of fecal contamination.”  The direct approach was more successful, in that the dogs exhibited 76% and 86% sensitivity, respectively, in detecting more than 0.25 grams of fecal contamination.  (For an explanation of the terms “sensitivity” and “specificity,” see a prior blog on the use of dogs to detect lung cancer.)

California Ground Squirrel
Ground squirrels, common in produce fields, defecate between 2% and 8% of their body weight per day.  The researchers state that, based on their results, “scent detection dogs might be able to detect as little as 1% of a ground squirrel’s daily fecal load if deposited on, for example, spinach or cilantro or after foliar irrigation when feces or scat are deposited in furrows and along beds of leafy greens.” 

The broader implication of this is stated as follows:   “A protocol that uses a fecal scent detection dog to first screen all produce samples and then test only those to which the dog alerted can increase the probability of detecting contaminated produce by up to 3,000%, depending on the background prevalence of fecal contamination in the field.”

The researchers conclude that “the use of scent detection dogs will allow us to prioritize produce samples for analytical testing and thereby optimize the detection of both feces and the associated microbial pathogens that so often accompany fecal contamination.” 


The results achieved with the dogs might be improved by different training regimens, or the use of different breeds, possibilities that the researchers concede may be true. Using dogs over longer periods than was the case with these experiments might also improve accuracy. 

The dogs were not as accurate as some prior research found in other contexts, but context is important.  Researchers looking to use dogs in cancer detection have insisted on consistently high success rates before this application can move into clinical environments, but the same levels of success should not be required for using dogs in detecting fecal contamination of produce.  If it can be verified that a protocol involving canine screening of samples, in order to prioritize which truckloads or other units of vegetables should receive further testing, would increase the probability of detecting contaminated produce by up to 30 times over the present approach, this makes a strong case for implementation despite the fact that some contaminated lots would still be missed.   

It is to be hoped, therefore, that if these results are verified, detection dogs may soon be put into service in real-world commercial agricultural operations.  Another example of such a use of dogs might be in detecting oil in fish hauls after a spill.  A new canine industry may be in the offing.

Partyka, Melissa L., Bond, Ronald F., Farrar, Jeff, Falco, Andy, Cassens, Barbara, Cruse, Alonza, and Atwill, Edward R.  (2014).  Quantifying the Sensitivity of Scent Detection Dogs to Identify Fecal Contamination on Raw Produce.  Journal of Food Protection, 77(1), 6014.  

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dogs of India: Travel Notes

In the Mahabharata, a weary traveler enters a strange village:

"One day he came upon a hamlet, in the midst of a forest, inhabited by cruel hunters addicted to the slaughter of living creatures. The little hamlet abounded with broken jars and pots made of earth. Dog-skins were strewn about everywhere. Bones and skulls of boars and asses were gathered in heaps in different places.  Cloths stripped from the dead lay about, and the huts were adorned with garlands of used-up flowers. Many of the habitations were embellished with sloughs cast off by snakes. The place resounded with the loud crowing of cocks and hens and the dissonant bray of asses. Here and there the inhabitants disputed with one another, uttering harsh words in shrill voices. There were temples of gods bearing devices of owls and other birds. Resounding with the tinkle of iron bells, the hamlet abounded with canine packs standing or lying on every side." (Canti Parva § 141, Ray VI)
Puppies on Varanasi Street

The traveler can find nothing to eat in the village except the flesh of a recently slain dog, and he must decide whether he can partake of this, which he must first steal, to avoid starvation. The passage is dreamlike, even nightmarish, but the large numbers of dogs in and around a village are as familiar today as they were when the great epic was written.

Even on the drive from the airport into New Delhi we saw dozens of themmostly light tan, some brown and blackbeside the road and sometimes crossing before us in traffic. Variously called pi-dogs, pariahs, INdogs, street dogs, village dogs, native dogs, parries, pyes, and other terms, here I will call them pi-dogs for brevity.  They live in the streets and alleys, beside the roads, mostly near people but sometimes in small isolated groups on the edges of parks and forests.  One estimate put their numbers in a section of West Bengal as from 156 to 214 per square kilometer, 404 to 554 per square mile.  I have seen no census but, even assuming that only a portion of the country holds sufficient foraging opportunities to support breeding populations, their numbers could well be over 100 million and perhaps more.
Boy with Pi-Dog, Udaipur (Joan Ensminger)
Outside our first hotel, the Imperial in New Delhi, they were on the streets, mostly ignoring us, though curious when I started taking pictures.  One I saw several times over three days slept beside the door but under the low roof of a small shop, where the owner occasionally put food on the ground and water in a small cup. The dog had no collar and I do not know if the shop proprietor, who did not speak English, would have said the dog was his.  These relationships are often temporary, and some specialists believe that male dogs are more successful at making friendships with humans than females.  At least one scientist who has studied India’s pi-dogs in West Bengal for decades, Sunil Kumar Pal, has found that the ratio of males to females is around 1.37 to 1, though this has not been confirmed in other areas.  


Anne de Courcy, in her wonderful book about the brides brought from England to India to find husbands during the British occupation (The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj), writes that “most cantonments were haunted by pi-dongs,” and the “fear of rabies was ever-present.” Yet a British effort to exterminate street dogs in Bombay in 1832 led to riots (Palsetia, 2001). More recently, laws have protected the dogs from euthanasia, but sterilization programs have had some success in cities such as Delhi and Jaipur. 

Dr. M.K. Sudarshan of the Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences in Bangalore has estimated that each year in India about 20,000 people contract rabies, mostly males in rural areas, over 90% of whom are bitten by dogs.  The incubation period lasts from two weeks to six months.  Almost half the victims do not seek medical attention and may resort to indigenous healing practices. Although I had thought that oral rabies vaccines for animals, such as announced by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, might be a partial answer, I am advised that at present there are environmental, as well as cultural limitations, that may make this approach impractical in India. 

Animal Behavior Studies

Puppies are born from October to March, with most in November through January.  The average litter is just under six puppies.  Mothers milk-feed for ten to 11 weeks, but may remain in contact with litters for as little as 13 weeks.  Milk feeding sessions last as long as 27 minutes during the first week of life, going down to around two minutes in the 11th week.  Mothers also feed puppies by regurgitation.  Puppies’ eyes are completely open by day 17 of life, and they soon become mobile.  They begin searching for food independently at ten to 11 weeks.  The mortality rate for puppies is high.  Two-thirds die within four months and one study found that only 18% survive the first year.  Since so many live near the roads, they are easily run over as we saw happen several cars ahead of us the day we drove into Ranthambhore.  The squeals of the dying puppy haunted us for days. 

Pi-Dog Puppies in Delhi Cloth Market
Pi-dogs live on garbage and human generosity.  They are often found beside food stalls, and are sometimes fed by shop owners, as was true of a group of puppies in this picture taken at a cloth market in Delhi. Srejani Sen Majumder, Anindita Bhadra, and their colleagues at the Behaviour and Ecology Lab of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata have studied the relationships of free-ranging dogs with humans.  The researchers found that during daylight dogs spend about half the time resting and about 16% of the time walking.  Of their interactions, about 85% were with other dogs.  These researchers say that calves are occasionally chased by dogs, though in Varinasi we once saw a cow lower her head and chase a dog for several feet.  Aggression towards humans is rare, and we never saw any, but submission is evident in about half of interactions with humans, usually demonstrated by tail wagging or begging.   Humans, on the other hand, are frequently aggressive towards pi-dogs, and we saw people throwing stones at them more than a few times.  A local newspaper article from a century ago (Amrita Bazar Patrika, July 13, 1899) suggests that there may be social limits on how much effort one should put into chasing away a dog:

“We saw the other day a European pursuing a pariah dog with a stick in his hand, because the dog, finding him a stranger strangely dressed, had barked at him.  Of course, he had no fear of being bitten; its barks irritated him, and he, therefore, sought to give the animal a lesson…. By following the pariah dog in anger, the European lowered his dignity.”

Dogs in Ancient India

Dogs were present in India from before any historical record and their bones have been excavated at ancient cultural sites (Kharakwal et al. 2011).  More than a century ago, Edward Washburn Hopkins wrote:

“[I]n the Rig-Veda the dog is the companion and ally of man; the protector and probably the inmate of his house; a friend so near that he pokes his too familiar head into the dish, and has to be struck aside as a selfish creature.  He may have been employed as a steed—the chariot of the Maruts is pictured as one drawn by dogs; but he is, at any rate, used for hunting, and the gift of a kennel of one hundred dogs is gratefully acknowledged.”

Hopkins describes tales of evil spirits taking the form of a dog, and lists dog-ghost references in ancient literature.  Dogs could also have magical qualities.   In the Upanishads (Chand. Up. 1.12), dogs walk in a line, each dog keeping the tail of the preceding dog in his mouth, “as the priests do when they are going to sing praises with the Vahishpavamana hymn,” each priest holding an end of the robe of the priest before him. 

The Uncleanness of Dogs

Battered and Infested Street Dog, Varanasi
Dogs were perceived as unclean in early literature.  The Satapatha-Brahmana states: “But, surely there are three unclean animals, a vicious boar, a vicious ram, and a dog….” (SBE XLIV, 178)  A person who was touched by a dog was to bathe with his clothes on (SBE II, 56; XIV, 121, 183), though another passage says no more than that the limb the dog touched must be washed (SBE II, 253). A pot touched by a dog was to be heated until it was the color of fire (SBE XIV, 160). (SBE references in this blog are to the volume and page number of The Sacred Books of the East, published a century ago by the Clarendon Press at Oxford. For more detail on this 50-volume set, see under Muller, the overall editor, under “Sources” below.)

The poor kept poles to drive away dogs, though a Jain Sutras say that even thus armed one might not avoid being bitten by one of them (SBE XXII, 84).  (Jain writings often emphasize the danger of dog bites; see SBE XLV, 94, 262). 

Yet dogs were not permitted everywhere. They were not to be allowed to watch the performance of a funeral sacrifice (SBE II, 145, also II, 259; XXV, 119).  If a dog, a frog or a cat ran between a teacher of the Vedas and a pupil, a three days’ fast with residence in some place besides the teacher’s home was required of the student (SBE II, 184; SBE XIV, 121; also, teaching must stop for a day and a night, SBE XXV, 149). Brahmanas were not to recite the Veda while dogs barked (SBE XXV, 147).  Dogs “must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat” (SBE XXV, 119).

A herdsman was liable for the loss of an animal in the herd if it was killed by dogs and the herdsman did not duly exert himself to prevent this (SBE XXV, 295; XXXIII, 142). The owner of the dog, if there was one, was apparently not liable for such a loss unless he had set the dog to kill the animal (SBE XXXIII, 212). 

Obligation to Feed

Yet a householder was obligated to "throw (some food) on the ground for dogs Kandalas [low-caste persons], outcasts, and crows." (SBE II, 122, SBE XI, 9, SBE XIV, 50, SBE XXV, 92). According to the Institutes of Vishnu, one who intentionally killed a dog must fast for three days (SBE VII, 160; see SBE XIV, 114, requiring 12 days of penance).  The Gryhia Sutras, giving rules for domestic ceremonies, say that food is not only to be given to dogs, but also to dog-butchers (SBE XXIX, 87).  It was considered wise to throw food down into a pit for the dogs, obviously to keep them from getting close enough to bite (Sobti, 1995).  As in the Book of Proverbs (26:11), dogs were described as prone to eating their own vomit (SBE VIII, 160). 

Dogs in the Home

Dogs on Palettes, Varanasi
Some ancient sources discourage keeping dogs, at least inside a house.  The Sacred Laws of the Aryas state that the “gods do not eat (the offerings) of a man who keeps dogs, …  nor of him who lives in subjection to his wife, nor of (a husband) who (permits) a paramour (of his wife to reside) in his house.”  In the Ramayana (Dutt, UttaraKandam § 70), a talking dog explains why he cannot enter a palace to speak to the king:  “We cannot enter into the houses of divinities, kings or Brahmanas, nor can we go there where is fire, Indra, the sun or the wind, for we are the vilest born; so I cannot enter here.”   Nevertheless, the king directs that the dog be brought before him.

Those of certain lower castes did apparently own dogs, as “their wealth (shall be) dogs and donkeys” (SBE XXV, 414; XLII, 106 suggests that the dog is sleeping near the family).  The Mahabharata speaks of a dog that became exceedingly attached to a scribe in consequence of the affection with which the scribe treated the dog (Canti Parva § 96, Ray V).

A passage in the Ramayana (Dutt, Ayodhya Kandam § 70), describes a king giving gifts of elephants, woolen sheets, deerskins, and dogs.  The dogs were “brought up in the inner apartment, resembling tigers in strength and prowess, furnished with teeth representing weapons, and large of body.” 

Hunting Dogs in Antiquity

Harappan Period Burial Vase, Delhi Museum
A burial jar from the Harappan period (c. 1900 BC), on display in the Delhi Museum, shows a dog (the width of the neck may suggest a collar), or conceivably a wolf, attacking a deer.   Ancient references to deer hunting seldom add any detail as to how dogs were deployed, though the Ramayana (Dutt, Aranya Kandam §55) describes a doe separated by dogs from a herd before being attacked by them. 

Although dogs could defile human food by eating it, this did not occur when a hunting dog or a huntsman caught a deer (SBE VII, 103, 104, XIV, 133, 170, XXV, 192).  Breeders of sporting dogs are mentioned (XXX, 106), and reverence is said to be due to dogs, dog-keepers, and huntsmen (XLIII, 152). 

Boar Hunting, Khajuraho, 11th Century
Boar hunting is mentioned in the Mahabharata (Drona Parva § 183) but most specific references to prey in the ancient sources concern deer.  By the 11th century AD, a boar hunt on the wall of a temple at Khajuraho could look very similar to what one would see on Roman and Greek sarcophagi going back to classical antiquity.  Dogs were also used to hunt hare, and a Santal folk tale tells of a dog that caught five in one day (Campbell, 1891).

Dogs in Criminal Punishment

Dogs were known to eat slain enemies after the battle (SBE XLII, 129), but this was true of all battlefields and sometimes still is (Iliad 8:379-80).  One who sinned might expect that after he died, his body might be eaten by dogs and vultures (SBE VII, 216), as was true of Jezebel at Jezreel (2 Kings 9:10).  Dogs could be used in punishments:

“A woman who commits adultery with a man of lower caste, the king shall cause to be devoured by dogs in a public place.”  (SBE II, 289) The Laws of Manu (SBE XXV, 318-9; see also XXXIII, 367) speaks even more generally:

“If a wife, proud of the greatness of her relatives or (her own) excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many.” 

Dogs were agents of punishment even in the afterlife where, in the hells to which they are consigned, the wicked will be devoured by dogs and jackals and other beasts (SBE VII, 142).  On transmigration, a sinner might become a dog (SBE VII, 145; XXV, 496; XXXVIII, 114). Some sins could even bring punishment to one’s ancestors:

“If he applies sesamum to any other purpose, but food, anointing, and charitable gifts, he will be born again as a worm and, together with his ancestors, be plunged into the ordure of dogs.” (SBE XIV, 221,  XXV, 422)

A brand in the shape of a dog’s foot was put on the forehead of a person convicted of stealing gold (SBE VII, 26; XXV, 383).  This type of branding was also recommended for those who violated the rules of an order of religious ascetics (SBE XXXIII, 265). 

Dog Trainer, Orchha Palace, 16th Century
The autobiography of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1569-1609) describes sentencing a man to have his tongue cut out, after which he was to be confined with only the company of dog-keepers, apparently a type of person that no one would associate with if he could avoid it.  Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1889) describes the cruel use of dogs in an execution of a murderer in the 19th century:

“The enormity of the deed justified that the guilty one should be condemned to a very severe sentence, and the judgment provided that he should be hung to a gallows, head downwards, between two large dogs, suspended close to him, so that in their rage they should eat out his vitals, and so make him suffer more than one death by the protraction of the torment.”

Eating Dog Meat

Some passages would suggest that the flesh of the dog is forbidden (SBE II, 75, VII, 166). If one ate dog flesh without knowing it, one was must fast for seven days (SBE XIV, 121; see also SBE VII, 166).  Nevertheless, dog meat might be acceptable to avoid dying from starvation, as was true for the traveler described in the passage from the Mahabarata with which this blog opened. The Laws of Manu state: “Vamadeva, who well knew right and wrong, did not sully himself when, tormented (by hunger), he desired to eat the flesh of a dog in order to save his life” (SBE XXV, 424; see also XXV, 425, and Mahabharata, Canti Parva §96) specifically mentioning eating the haunch of a dog).   

Dog Copulating with Woman (left) as Run Away in Horror or Shield Their Eyes, Khajuraho, 11th Century
A passage from a minor law book called one tribe, tasked with performing public executions, the dog-cookers (SBE XXXIII, 209, n.11; see also Dutt, Ramayana, BalaKandam §§ 60, 72: “always feeding on dogs’ flesh”).  A passage in the Vedanta Sutras suggests that one who eats dog flesh is no better than a dog (SBE XLVIII, 96): “In the dog and the low man eating dog’s flesh the wise see the same.”  The Kama Sutra states that dog’s meat was thought to increase virile power, and was effective against certain diseases (Danielou, pp. 194, 324).  During a famine in the 1630s, it was recorded that shopkeepers began selling dog flesh (Jaffar, 1936).

Cleansing after a Dog Bite

After being bitten by a dog (or a jackal, tame pig, an ass, an ape, a crow, or a public prostitute), one was to stand in a river and “stop his breath sixteen times.”  (SBE VII, 176; SBE XXV, 471) A Brahmana bitten by a dog was to go to a river that flows into the ocean, bathe, suppress his breath one hundred times, and eat clarified butter (SBE XIV, 121, 183). In the Mughal empire there were physicians who specialized in treating dog bites (Rezavi, 2012).

Dog saliva was regarded as medicinal (SBE XLII, 472, 504), a belief that may explain dogs licking the sores of Lazarus (Luke 16:21).  Epilepsy was said to be due to a dog-demon (SBE XXX, 219, 286, XXXIII, 230), though the demon was not presumed to have entered through a bite. 

Dog Leather

Dog skin was a poor quality leather, but nevertheless had its uses.  Part of the penance of one who killed a learned man or a priest was to put on the skin of a dog or an ass with the hair turned outside, and take a human skull for a drinking vessel (SBE II, 90). As mentioned above, a poor village might have to use dog hides for various purposes.  (Dog hides were used to make shoes in the American colonial period, something that George Washington complained to his shoemaker about.)

A Dog at the Entrance to Heaven

Perhaps the most widely known story from India of a dog’s loyalty to a master, and a master’s loyalty to a dog, concerns a mythological king. Yudhisthira was accompanied by his dog after all other companions had fallen, a story in the Mahabharata (Maraprasthanika Parva §3, Ray translation, vol. 9).  When he comes to the entrance to heaven, Indra, the god of heaven, tells Yudhisthira that he can live with his brothers and may enter with his own body.  Yudhisthira says that his dog should come with him.  Indra denies this request, saying:

Yudhisthira and Dog at Entrance to Heaven
“Immortality and a condition equal to mine, O king, prosperity extending in all directions, and high success, and all the felicities of Heaven, thou has won today!  Do thou cast off this dog.  In this there will be no cruelty.”

Yudhisthira persists, as does Indra, saying that there is no place in heaven for persons with dogs.  Yudhisthira says that abandoning one who has been faithful is infinitely sinful.  He insists that he will not abandon the dog, even for his own happiness.  The solution is not to admit the dog, however, but rather for the dog to be transformed into the deity of righteousness.

Such respect for dogs was not just mythological.  The King of Assam was buried with an elephant, 12 camels, six horses, and “numerous sporting dogs … it being believed that all these animals will come to life again, after they are dead, in order to serve the King” (Tavernier, 1889).  Nevertheless, Tavernier also records that the flesh of the dog is especially esteemed in Assam and is a favorite at feasts.  Every “month, in each town in the Kingdom, the people hold markets where they only sell dogs, which are brought thither from all directions.”  It is perhaps to be noted that Assam is close to Burma, where dog meat is still eaten. 

Shiva’s Dogs

Shiva Holding Head for Dog, Udaipur, 17th Century
Wolf-Dieter Storl explains that in “his most terrifying form as Bhairava, Shiva is referred to as the one whose mount is a dog.  It is a black dog, befitting the archetypal image of a god of shamans, hunters, and the shades.”  The association of a dog with a god of destruction is not without its positive side, Storl argues, as “if one regards it in a meditative way, putting all preconceived, programmed notions aside, one is awed by the gentle, nearly loving way in which these gnawing animals cause the mortal remains to disappear.”

T.A. Gopinatha Rao (1916) says that in the depictions of Bhairava, the dog is the same color as his master.  Nishipad Dev Choudhury (1999) states that Bhairava is an ugra form of Shiva, noting that he is often depicted with “big eyes, wide nostrils, a moustache, a beard and side tusks. His lips are parted in a horrible smile.  His hair flies up like flames.”  The black god on the black dog is a picture I took at a shrine in Varanasi with the help of Professor Rana P.B. Singh. 

Shiva on Dog, Varanasi
While watching cremations on the shore of the Ganges, I saw one of the attendants driving a dog away from the pyre in which the body had been placed.  I could not take a picture, being close enough to the cremation ground that a photograph would have been offensive to the mourners.

Shiva’s dog, probably not accidentally, is generally depicted as a sturdy guard dog, though a statue in the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles has a dog next to Bharaiva that appears to be more of a greyhound.  Shiva as a beggar, however, is generally depicted with greyhound-like dogs (Adiceam, 1965).

Dogs in the Mughal Period

Hunting reached the level of a high art during the Mughal period.  Despite his Moslem beliefs, Akbar, the third Mughal emperor declared dogs to be clean (Malleson, 1896).  In the siege of Golkonda in 1687, the assailants had gained the ramparts but a dog gave the alarm and the garrison on the wall threw down their ladders.  The dog was rewarded with a golden collar (Lane-Poole, 1908).    

Thomas Allsen explains that during the Mughal empire (1526-1858), “the royal hunt was a key element in the governance of the realm.”  Court dinners included antelope, hare, peacock, and deer. Mughal rulers undertook long hunting trips. The Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) built a pleasure resort at his favorite hunting ground near Srinagar.  Francois Bernier describes a parade of riches before the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan during his visit to Delhi in the mid-seventeenth century.  Included in the parade were elephants, tame antelopes kept for the purpose of fighting each other, grey oxen, as well as—

“rhinoceroses; large Bengale buffaloes with prodigious horns which enable them to contend against lions and tigers, tame leopards, or panthers, employed in hunting antelopes; some of the fine sporting dogs from Usbec, of every kind, and each dog with a small red covering; lastly, every species of the birds of prey use in field sports for catching partridges, cranes, hares, and even, it is said, for hunting antelopes, on which they pounce with violence beating their heads and blinding them with their wings and claws.”

The Emperor Jahangir states in his autobiography that the times for running dogs are in the morning and at the end of the day, and describes Arabian dogs (perhaps salukis, as Brian Duggan has suggested to me) as having become exhausted because they were run when the air was too hot for them. The dogs may have actually come from Arabia or at least Afghanistan as the emperor describes having received a gift of dogs from the governor of Qandahar. 

Rabies Passed from a Dog to Two Elephants

Arabian Dog (Saluki?) in Procession, Udaipur
Emperor Jahangir describes how he came to understand that a dog could pass rabies to elephants:

“I knew that every animal or living thing bitten by a mad dog died, but this had not been ascertained in the case of an elephant.  In my time it so happened that one night a mad dog came into the place where was tied one of my private elephants, Gajpati by name, and bit the foot of a female elephant that was with mine. She at once cried out. The elephant-keepers at once ran in, and the dog fled away into a thorn-brake that is there. After a little while it came in again and bit my private elephant's fore-foot as well. The elephant killed it. When a month and five days had passed after this event, one day when it was cloudy the growling of thunder came to the ear of the female elephant, that was in the act of eating, and it of a sudden raised a cry and its limbs began to tremble. It threw itself on the ground, but rose again. For seven days water ran out of its mouth, then suddenly it uttered a cry and showed distress. The remedies the drivers gave it had no effect, and on the eighth day it fell and died. A month after the death of the female elephant they took the large elephant to the edge of the river in the plain. It was cloudy and thundery in the same way. The said elephant in the height of excitement all at once began to tremble and sat down on the ground. With a thousand difficulties the drivers took it to its own place. After the same interval and in the same way that had happened to the female elephant this elephant also died.”

J. Ovington, a chaplain, visiting Surat in 1689, reported that there was a veterinary hospital near the city in which cows, horses, goats, and dogs were treated. 

Pets and Professional Dogs in the Modern Era

Explosives Detection Dog, Varanasi Airport
Although I heard of cases of pi-dogs becoming house pets, the only pet dogs I actually saw were purebreds, mostly Labradors, a German Shepherd, a Doberman, an Akita, a Beagle, a Yorkie, and a St. Bernard.  We encountered explosives detection dogs with military handlers at the Varanasi and Udaipur airports, both overweight Labradors.

An article in the India Times in February 2014 describes India’s first “petathalon,” in which “200 pet dogs of various breeds will run along with their human companions.”  The article says that the breeds participating included Labradors, German shepherds, beagles, rottweilers, pugs, Tibetan Mastiffs, bull mastiffs, and others.  A picture accompanying the article shows a boy with a German shepherd.  There was also to be talks by veterinarians, groomers, and others.  The event was a fundraiser for animal welfare programs.  Nowhere does the article mention pi-dogs.  


From Vedic times there have been two classes of dogs in India, the pi-dogs and those that were bred to the chase or to guard the palace.  They have always been separated and still are. India is too big a country for me to claim to understand after a short visit, and I am in no position to judge. Nevertheless, I feel that the rapid industrialization and modernization that is taking hold in much of the country is going to force change for the pi-dogs. Roads are getting more dangerous, less forgiving.  If more than two-thirds of pi-dogs die in the first months of life now, the carnage seems likely to increase.  These are generally gentle and I think attractive dogs. They are grateful for food and attention. Yet many that I saw were diseased—almost all over two or three years old, with obvious lesions on the skin and significant balding where fleas and flies constantly worried them.  They should not be allowed to continue to breed indiscriminately, and to navigate a generally indifferent and often unfriendly world.  Sexual reproduction should be limited, as has been implemented in some areas.  

I would close with mention of someone I did not meet, but wish I had. Sandip Karan of Kolkata, described in an article by Kaushik Sengupta as a “street dog doctor,” takes care of thousands of street dogs every year, and gives many a home.  May there be more of his saintly kind!  (Click on this link for a remarkable series of photographs.)

Notes of Appreciation

First I must thank my wife, Joan, who took most of the pictures reproduced here.  Thanks to Professor Rana P.B. Singh for showing us many of the interesting shrines of Varanasi, including Shiva riding the dog.  Many of our drivers and tour guides displayed considerable skill in finding art that included dogs.  These include: Shailendra Singh Rathore whose knowledge of Jaipur made him the best guide we could imagine, and who found palace depictions of hunts that I have not seen published before. Attar Singh, a skillful and patient driver navigated the difficult streets of Delhi and made good time on the long roads between stops; if we return to India, my first priority will be to assure that he drives us once again. Devesh Kumar Agarwal got us down to the Ganges twice, and helped us navigate that wonderful and frightening city.  H.K. Lavania in Agra not only showed us the great wonder of the world, the Taj Mahal, but spoke French to my wife throughout the visit.  In Udaipur, our guide, Arun Bhate showed us the Shiva with the blood dripping into the dog’s mouth on the wall of the temple. 

Joan with Shop Owner's St. Bernard, Udaipur
I must also thank Dr. Savita Yadav of Khemvillas in Ranthambhore, who made vegetarian Indian food a healthy and delightful cuisine.  The atmosphere of this hotel was such that we ended up making friends at meals, rather than always going to a separate table as seemed to be true in many other hotels.  

I also want to thank Kavita N. Ramdas, Representative of the Ford Foundation, who gave us a tour of the Foundation, which my uncle, Douglas Ensminger, worked at for several decades after WWII and who is still remembered in Foundation halls as the Maharajah Ensminger. (I first learned of this sobriquet from A. Gridley Hall, a friend who once worked for the Ford Foundation in South America, but who died young, and long ago. Grid, as I blogged about a year ago, was no stranger to pariahs.)

Finally, I wish to express my deep appreciation for Dr. J.D. Agarwal and Dr. Aman Agarwal, who asked me to speak on money laundering at the Indian Institute of Finance, but had the good humor to allow me also to give a seminar on the social and economic history of dogs. Although I have no influence in such matters, I be so bold as to suggest that the Nobel economics committee should take note of the important work this institution, and particularly Dr. J.D. Agarwal, have done for developing sophisticated financial markets research and education in India.   


Adiceam, Marguerite E. (1965). Les Images de Siva dans l’Inde du Sud, III et IV (Bhikaanamurti et Kakalamurti). Arts Asiatiques, 12, 83-112 (showing south Indian depictions of Bhikshatana, the mendicant or beggar aspect of Shiva, which often include a small hunting dog with the appearance of a sighthound). 

Agarwal, Yamini (2013). Capital Structure Decisions under Multiple Objectives: A Study of Indian Corporates.  Delhi: IIF Publications (an analysis of how capital structure decisions are becoming very sophisticated for Indian corporations). 

Allsen, Thomas T. (2006).  The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

The Amrita Bazar Patrika 31(53), p. 3, Calcutta, July 13, 1899. “The Sedition Trials.”

Bernier, Francois (1916).  Travels in the Mogul Empire AD 1656-1668.  London: Oxford University Press. 

Campbell, A. (1891). Santal Folk Tales. Pokhuria: Santal Mission Press (stories of hunting dogs, wild dogs, and others). 

Chilli, Shaikh (1913). Folk-Tales of Hindustan.  Bahadurganj, Allahabad: Abinah Chandra Sarkar, Brahmo Mission Press (with stories of people been changed into dogs).

Choudhury, Nishipad Dev (1999). Lord Siva and Siva Icons in Assam.  In Studies in Hindu and Buddhist Art (Mishra, P.K., ed). New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Danielou, Alain (1994).  The Complete Kama Sutra.  Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.

Dog Begging at Sarnath
Day, Lal Behari (1912). Folk-Tales of Bengal.  London: Macmillan & Co. (stories of dogs transforming into other animals).

de Courcy, Anne (2014). The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj.  New York: Harper.

Derr, Mark (2012).  What is the Indian Pariah? Psychology Today, August 9, 2012 (Taking issue with Gardiner Harris’s article in the New York Times and stating that “the view of Indian dogs as little more than dump-diving, teeth-gnashing threats to public health and safety is deeply flawed.” I agree with him on this.).

Dutt, Manmatha Nath (1891). The Ramayana. Calcutta: Girish Chandra Chackravarti.  The depiction of Yudhishthira at the entrance of heaven is from a Hindi version of the Mahabharata published by Gorakhpur Geeta Press.

Financial Action Task Force (2010).  Mutual  Evaluation Report on India: Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (describing India as often the victim of terrorism from various internal and external terrorist cells). 

Gubernatis, Angelo de (1872). Zoological Mythology, or The Legends of Animals.  London: Trubner & Co. (finding parallels between Hindu and western mythology and folk stories). 

Harris, Gardiner (2012).  New Delhi Journal: Where Streets Are Thronged with Stays Baring Fangs.  New York Times, August 6, 2012 (describing vicious attacks by stray dogs of children, students, old men). 

Herman, Steven L. (2008).  The Relationship between People and Dogs in Contemporary India.  Harvard Extension School. 

Hopkins, E.W. (1894). The Dog in the Rig-Veda. The American Journal of Philology, 15(2), 154-163. 

International Monetary Fund (February 2014).  India: 2014 Article IV Consultation (describing economic challenges for India in the years to come). 

Jaffar, S.M. (1936). The Mughal Empire from Babar to Aurangzer.  Kissa Khani, Peshawar: S. Muhammad Sadiq Khan. 

Kharakwal, J.S., Rawat, Y.S., and Osada, T. (2011). Annual Report of Excavation at Hanmer 2007-08 and 2008-09. In Occasional Paper 10: Linguistics, Archaeology and the Human Past Osada, T., and Uesugi, A., eds.). Kyoto: Indus Project. 71-104.

Knowles, J. Hinton (1888).  Folk-Tales of Kashmir.  London: Trubner & Col. (describing a dog that tracked thieves who had stolen from his master’s shop, taking his master to the place where they had hidden the goods; also, stories: “The Clever Jackal” and “The Jackal-King”).

Lane-Poole, Stanley (1908).  Aurangzib and the Decay of the Mughal Empire.  Oxford: Clarendon Press. 

Malleson, G.B. (1896).  Rulers of India: Akbar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Majumder, S.S., Bhadra, A., Ghosh, A., et al. (2014). To Be or Not to Be Social: Foraging Associations of Free-Ranging Dogs in an Urban Ecosystem.  Acta Ethologica, 17(1), 1-8.

Majumder, S.S., Chatterjee, A., and Bhadra, A. (2014). A Dog’s Day with Humans—Time Activity Budget of Free-Ranging Dogs in India.  Current Science, 106.

Monier-Williams (1885). Religious Thought and Life in India.  London: John Murray (describes worship of dogs, feeding dogs as a sacred duty, and how one of the 139 Mothers of Gujarat controls mad dog and prevents hydrophobia). 

Tourist Trying to Give Commands to Pi-Dog at Bus Station
Muller, F. Max (1890).  The Sacred Books of the East (50 vols). Oxford: Clarendon Press.  Muller was the overall editor as well as a translator in some volumes.  Twenty volumes were from Hindu religious sources, and two from Jain sources,making this one of the massive collections of scholarship of the early 20th century.  NOTE: Rather than having cumbersome citations for each reference in this blog, I have chosen to use the volume and page number where the reference was taken from (e.g., SBE II, 56).  The volumes may be downloaded without cost from and Google Books. 

Norton Simon Museum, Catalogue No. F.1975.17.27.S, 15th century bronze statue of Bhairava from Tamil Nadu, south India. 

Ovington, John (1696).  A Voyage to Suratt in the Year 1689.  London: Jacob Tonson.

Pal, S.K. (2001). Population Ecology of Free-Ranging Urban Dogs in West Bengal, India.  Acta Theriologica, 46(1), 69-78. 

Pal, S.K. (2003). Urine Marking by Free-Ranging Dogs (Canis familiarizes) in Relation to Sex, Season, Place and Posture.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 80, 45-49. 

Pal, S.K. (2008).  Maturation and Development of Social Behavior During Early Ontogeny in Free-Ranging Dog Puppies in West Bengal, India. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 111(1), 95-107.  

Pal, S.K. (2010). Play Behaviour During Early Ontogeny in Free-Ranging Dogs (Canis familiaris).  Applied Animal Bheaviour Science, 126(3-4), 140-153 

Pal, S.K. (2011).  Mating System of Free-Ranging Dogs (Canis familiaris). International Journal of Zoology, 2011.   

Pal, S.K., Ghosh, B., and Roy, S. (1998). Dispersal Behaviour of Free-Ranging Dogs (Canis familiaris) in Relation to Age, Sex, Season and Dispersal Distance.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 61(2), 123-132. 

Pal, S.K., Ghosh, B., and Roy, S. (1999). Inter- and Intra-Sexual Behaviour of Free-Ranging Dogs (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 62, 267-278.

Palsetia, Jesse S. (2001).  Mad Dogs and Parsis: The Bombay Dog Riots of 1832.  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, 11(1), 13-30. 

Rafy, Mrs. (1920).  Folk-Tales of the Khasis.  London: MacMillan & Co. (tales, including “How the Dog Came to Live with Man”). 

Ragozin, Zenaide A. (1002). Vedic India. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 

Rezavi, Syed Ali Nadeem (2012).  Medical Tehniques and Practices in Mughal India.  New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy (describing a doctor at Kalanaur to whom dog-bite patients were sometimes carried).

Rogers, Alexander, and Beveridge, Henry (1909).  The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, or Memoirs of Jahangir. London: Royal Asiatic Society.

Sengupta, Kaushik (2014). Street Dog Doctor. Galli.In website (January 1, 2014) (describing Sandip Karan, who cares for hundreds of dogs in Kolkata).

Sobti, Manu P. (1993). Timurid Central Asia and Mughal India: Some Correlations regarding Urban Design Concepts and the Typology of the Muslim House.  Master’s Thesis: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Storl, Wolf-Dieter (2004). Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy.  Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.

Sudarshan, M.K. (2007). Rabies Prevention: A Medical Guidbook. Pune:  Serum Institute of India Ltd.   This book has been posted online as a public service. 

Sudarshan, M.K., Madhusudana, S.N., Mahendra, B.J. et al. (2007). Assessing the Burden of Human Rabies in India: Results of a National Multi-Center Epidemiological Survey.  International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 11, 29-35.

Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste (1889).  Travels in India (2 vols).  London: Macmillan & Co.

Tawney, C.H. (1884).  The Katha Sarit Sagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, 2 vols. Calcutta: J.W. Thomas (11th century collection of stories and fairy tales, many involving dogs).  

Yule, Henry, and Burnell, A.C. (1903). Hobson-Johnson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases. London: John Murray (defining pariah-dog as the "common ownerless yellow dog, that frequents all inhabited places in the East, is universally so called by Europeans, no doubt from being a low-bred caste-less animal."  The entry quotes a 1789 source as stating that the Indian common cur is called a "pariar-dog.").

All rights reserved as to photographs and original text. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Dogs of George Washington and the Less Fortunate Ones of His Slaves

George Washington loved the chase, and engaged in it with hunting hounds through most of his life.   Diary entries and correspondence refer to hunts of deer, fox, hare, and pheasant. Hunting hounds at Mount Vernon came from English and American stock and, after the war, from France, though the French dogs may have been something of a disappointment.   Besides foxhounds, Washington mentions water dogs (spaniels), pointers, terriers, mastiffs, and curs. He had heard of Irish wolfhounds and for a time sought to get some to reduce predation of his flocks.  

Washington personally treated the ailments of his dogs, for instance applying a concoction of hog’s lard and brimstone when mange spread through a kennel.  Washington was particularly interested in rabies, and at least once shot a rabid dog.  He corresponded with Dr. James Mease, who conducted research on the nature of the disease.  In 1797, he sent a slave, Christopher, to Dr. James Stoy near Philadelphia in hopes that medical attention could avert the consequences of the bite of a mad dog.  The slave did not become sick.   

The first president’s attitudes towards dogs were those of the aristocrats of Virginia, at least those of English descent, but also reflected concerns about why slaves might want dogs, particularly when sheep or other livestock might be stolen with their help.  Although Washington took great care with his own dogs and those of his friends he borrowed for the chase, his concerns about sheep stealing led him to order that a slave should only own one dog, and if any slave owned more, overseers were to kill the excess by hanging the dogs.  It is not clear that this was ever enforced, but Washington certainly wanted his overseers, and his slaves, to believe that it would be. 

The Wessyngtons of County Durham

Sometime around 1183 AD, Washington’s ancestor William de Hertburn exchanged the village of Hertburn for the manor and village of Wessyngton in a land transaction whereby William agreed to attend the bishop of Durham with two greyhounds in grand hunts.  The bishop, who also held the title of Count Palatine from the Norman conquerors, had a castle in Durham, with responsibility of keeping an eye on Scotland not far to the north. William de Wessyngton, having changed his surname to that of the village he had obtained in the trade, was obligated to provide men at arms whenever military aid was required by the bishop.  Washington Irving, in his four-volume biography of the first president, says that the condition of military service required of William’s manor was often exacted, and that the service in the grand hunt was far from an idle form:

“Hunting came next to war in those days, as the occupation of the nobility and gentry. The clergy engaged in it equally with the laity. The hunting establishment of the Bishop of Durham was on a princely scale. He had his forests, chases and parks, with their train of foresters, rangers, and park keepers. A grand hunt was a splendid pageant in which all his barons and knights attended him with horse and hound. The stipulations with the Seignior of Wessyngton show how strictly the rights of the chase were defined. All the game taken by him in going to the forest belonged to the bishop; all taken on returning belonged to himself.”

Washington’s great-grandfather, John, arrived in Virginia in 1657, and with his brother, Andrew, bought land in Westmoreland County between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, land that was good for both farming and hunting.  John, according to Irving, “became an extensive planter,” and, as Colonel Washington, he led a force of Virginians and Marylanders against a Seneca tribe that had been ravaging settlements along the Potomac.  His estate at Bridges Creek passed in time to his grandson, Augustine Washington, father of the president, and it was in the house on this estate that George was born in 1732.  His boyhood was spent in a home in Stafford County, opposite Fredericksburg, and it was here that Washington was soon exposed to the pleasures of the chase. 

Survey Work

Washington saw the dogs of poor people when he worked as a surveyor.  In a letter from 1749 or 1750, he describes walking all day and sleeping the night with a family before the hearth, “like a Parcel of Dogs or Catts and happy’s he that gets the Birth nearest the fire.”  During this work, where inns were often unavailable, he “never had my cloths of [off] but lay and sleep in them like a Negro except the few Nights I have lay’n in Frederick Town.” He would have known of the warmth that a dog can provide on a cold night.

At that time in America, poorer quality shoes were sometimes made of dog leather, and in a letter of November 1759, he directs John Didsbury: “Never more make any of Dog leather.”  Thirteen years later, in July 1772, he is required to reinforce this point to the same Didsbury:  “I beg that none of the Shoes you now, or hereafter may send me, may be made of Dogskin unless particularly required to be so.”

Lord Fairfax

As a young man, Washington was a favorite of Lord William Fairfax, head of a family with which the Washingtons had been allied for more than a century.  Lord Fairfax loved the chase, and found George equally enthusiastic, as described by Irving:

“His lordship was a staunch fox-hunter, and kept horses and hounds in the English style. The hunting season had arrived. The neighborhood abounded with sport; but fox-hunting in Virginia required bold and skilful horsemanship. He found Washington as bold as himself in the saddle, and as eager to follow the hounds. He forthwith took him into peculiar favor; made him his hunting companion; and it was probably under the tuition of this hard-riding old nobleman that the youth imbibed that fondness for the chase for which he was afterwards remarked.”

Map of Mount Vernon drawn by Washington (Wilstach) 
As can be seen from the map Washington made of Mount Vernon, about half of the estate was in woodland, and suitable for hunting.  Even when engaged in other business on his estate, Washington would take dogs with him “for the chance of starting a fox, which he occasionally did, though he was not always successful in killing him.” Such an experienced is described in an entry in Washington’s diary for August 1768: "The hounds havg. started a Fox in self huntg. we followed and run it sevl. hours chase into a hold [sic] when digging it out it escaped." 

Hunts were often successful, however, as described in a diary entry for January 1786:

“After breakfast I rid by the places where my Muddy hole & Ferry people were clearing--thence to the Mill and Dogue run Plantations and having the Hounds with me in passing from the latter towards Muddy hole Plantation I found a Fox which after dragging him some distance and running him hard for near an hour was killed by the cross road in front of the House.”

Sometimes, as in modern Britain, foxes were held captive to be released for the chase. A diary entry for October  27, 1787 states: “Went to the Woods back of Muddy hole with the hounds. Unkennelled two foxes & dragged others but caught none. The dogs run wildly & under no command.” 

Irving describes hunting as Washington’s passion:

“When the sport was poor near home, he would take his hounds to a distant part of the country, establish himself at an inn, and keep open house and open table to every person of good character and respectable appearance who chose to join him in following the hounds.” 

Washington personally treated his dogs for their ailments.  A diary entry for September 1768 states: “Anointed all my Hounds (as well old Dogs as Puppies) which appeard to have Mange with Hogs Lard & Brimstone.”

Washington was also concerned with keeping breeding lines pure.  An entry for the same month reads: “The Hound Bitch Mopsey going proud, was lind by my Water dog Pilot before it was discovered—after which she was shut up with a hound dog—Old Harry.”  An entry for October 1768 indicates the water dog was a spaniel named Pompey.   

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an obscure meaning of “line” as a verb is largely restricted to dogs and wolves, meaning copulate, cover.  An entry for December 1770 states: “Truelove another Hound Bitch Shut up with Ringwood & by him alone lined.”

An entry for March 2, 1769, is particularly detailed:

First Gentleman of Virginia (John Ward Dunsmore, 1909)
“Returnd home from my Journey to Frederick &ca. and found that the Hound Bitch Maiden had taken Dog promiscuously. That the Bitch Lady was in Heat & had also been promiscuously lined, & therefore I did not shut her up—That Dutchess was shut up, and had been lind twice by Drunkard, but was out one Night in her heat, & supposd to be lind by other Dog's—that Truelove was also in the House--as was Mopsy likewise (who had been lind to Pilot before she was shut up). The Bitch Musick brought five Puppies one of which being thought not true was drownd immediately. The others being somewhat like the Dog (Rockwood of Mr. Fairfaxs) which got them were saved.”

Sometimes there was sufficient promiscuity that puppies would be drowned automatically, as indicated in a diary entry for June 1768: “Musick was also in heat & servd promiscuously by all the Dogs, intending to drown her Puppy's.”

Drowning puppies that did not fit some concept of the breed involved is not a practice confined to the eighteenth century.  Washington continues on March 31, 1769:

“To this time Mopsy had been lind several times by Lawlor as Truelove had been by Drunkard--but as this Bitch got [out] one Night during her Heat it is presumable she was lind by other Dogs especially Pilot, the Master Dog, & one who was seen lying down by her in the Morning.” 

There were apparently dogs around the plantation that were either ownerless or perhaps owned by slaves that were not to be permitted to breed with the hunting hounds.  A diary entry for December 1770 states:

“Shut up Singer after She had been first lined by one or two Cur Dogs. Jowler being put in with her lind her several times; and his Puppies if to be distinguished saved.”

Naming puppies is described often in Washington’s diaries.  An entry for June 1768 says something about how names were chosen:  “The hound bitch Mopsey brought 8 Puppys, distinguishd by the following Names--viz.--Tarter--Jupiter--Trueman--& Tipler (being Dogs) --and Truelove, Juno, Dutchess, & Lady being the Bitches--in all eight.”

Dogs could be fixed.  An entry for June 1769 states: “James Cleveland [Washington’s overseer for River Farm, one of Washington’s properties] spaed the three hound Bitches Musick, Tipsey, & Maiden as also two hound puppies which came from Musick & Rockwood.”

The rural hunting life came to an end for Washington in 1775 as he became involved in revolutionary activities, though he would renew his passion for the chase after the war was over. 


Charles Lee (Andrews, 1894)
Washington was willing to give up the chase, and the company of his hounds, during the course of the American Revolution, but one of his commanders was reluctant to do so.  In February 1777, Major General Charles Lee wrote to Washington:  “I am likewise extremely desirous that my Dogs should be brought as I never stood in greater need of their Company than at present.” 

Lee was not related to the distinguished Lees of Virginia but Washington had known him before the war and the two men had no doubt hunted together.  Irving says of Lee:

“He was whimsical, eccentric, and at times almost rude; negligent also, and slovenly in person and attire; for though he had occasionally associated with kings and princes, he had also campaigned with Mohawks and Cossacks, and seems to have relished their ‘good breeding.’ What was still more annoying in a well regulated mansion, he was always followed by a legion of dogs, which shared his affections with his horses, and took their seats by him when at table. ‘I must have some object to embrace,' said he misanthropically. 'When I can be convinced that men are as worthy objects as dogs, I shall transfer my benevolence, and become as staunch a philanthropist as the canting Addison affected to be.’”

Washington let his friend down gently as to his wish of bringing his dogs on campaign. A week after receiving the none-too-subtle request, Washington wrote: “Your Dogs are in Virginia. This Circumstance I regret, as you will be deprived of the satisfaction and amusements you hoped to derive from their friendly and companionable dispositions. I am etc.”

Lee, it is to be noted, is responsible for a quip that has considerable currency for a time, describing to Washington in a letter of March 1776 how difficult he found it to position his army, saying he felt “like a Dog in a dancing school.  I know not where to turn myself, where to fix myself.” 

Victims of War

Horses, dogs, and other domestic animals are often victims of war, and in orders issued in April 1777, Washington commands that an officer and twenty privates be employed to bury “dead horses, dogs, or any kind of Carrion.”  In November 1775, Colonel Benedict Arnold’s forces in Canada were starving to a degree that a corporal in a company of Pennsylvania riflemen wrote about having “passed some musketmen devouring two dogs which they had roasted, skin and all, and were making a hearty meal of it, not having eat anything for 2 or 3 days.  I saw them offer a Dollar for a bitt of Cake not 2 ounces.” 

This was, of course, long before Arnold’s treason.  John Adams, an early advocate for Arnold, repeated the words of Arnold’s troops that “he fought like Julius Caesar.”  The future president made several analogies regarding Arnold’s detractors and those officers who quarreled among themselves rather than concentrating on the enemy:

“I am wearied to death with the wrangles between military officers, high and low. They quarrel like cats and dogs. They worry one another like mastiffs, scrambling for rank and pay like apes for nuts."

Mastiffs were Shakespeare’s dogs of war, and were often kept by camp followers to guard military encampments, but whether Adams was imagining their actual use for this purpose during the Revolutionary War is unclear. 

An incident occurring in 1779 is worth recounting in connection with the fate of dogs in war.  As described by Irving:

“On the 15th of July, about mid-day, Wayne set out with his light-infantry from Sandy Beach, fourteen miles distant from Stony Point. The roads were rugged, across mountains, morasses, and narrow defiles, in the skirts of the Dunderberg, where frequently it was necessary to proceed in single file. About eight in the evening they arrived within a mile and a half of the forts, without being discovered. Not a dog barked to give the alarm—all the dogs in the neighbourhood had been privately destroyed beforehand. Bringing the men to a halt, Wayne and his principal officers went nearer, and carefully reconnoitred the works and their environs, so as to proceed understandingly and without confusion. Having made their observations they returned to the troops. Midnight, it will be recollected, was the time recommended by Washington for the attack. About half-past eleven, the whole moved forward, guided by a negro of the neighbourhood who had frequently carried in fruit to the garrison, and served the Americans as a spy. He led the way, accompanied by two stout men disguised as farmers.”

Destroying dogs that might sound an alarm has, unfortunately but practically, occurred throughout history. 

General Howe’s Terrier

An incident during the battle of Germantown, which has become the subject of a book by Caroline Tiger, concerned a terrier that wandered onto the battlefield and was retrieved by Washington’s men.  A collar identified the dog as belonging General William Howe, Washington’s opponent.  Washington had the dog returned under a flag of truce on October 6, 1777, with an accompanying letter:

“General Washington's compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar, appears to belong to General Howe.”

A footnote to the letter in Washington’s collected papers states that the surviving draft of the letter is in the hand of Alexander Hamilton.  Although accounts of this event often emphasize Washington’s humanitarian concern for the dog, his motive was at least in part to establish for Howe that Americans could fight as British gentlemen should, with particular concern for the officers of the opposition and their property. 


With the arrival of peace, Washington attempted to return to the chase.  The Marquis de Lafayette promised to provide the general with French hunting hounds, for which Washington thanked him in a letter of July 1785:

“I am much obliged to you my dear Marquis, for your attention to the hounds, and not less sorry that you should have met the smallest difficulty, or experienced the least trouble in obtaining them: I was no way anxious about these, consequently should have felt no regret, or sustained no loss if you had not succeeded in your application.”

Washington and Lafayette, 1794 (Rossiter/Mignon, 1859)
His seeming patience with the arrival of the dogs was belied by another letter less than a month later to William Grayson:

“Apropos, did you hear him say anything of Hounds which, the Marqs. de la Fayette has written to me, were committed to his care?  If he really brought them (and if he did not I am unable to account for the information) it would have been civil in the young Gentleman to have dropped me a line respecting the disposal of them, especially as war is declared against the canine species in New York, and they being strangers, and not having formed any alliances for self-defence, but on the contrary, distressed and friendless may have been exposed not only to war, but to pestilence and famine also. If you can say anything on this subject pray do so.”

The reference to a war against the canine species in New York is unclear to me.  There may have been an effort to reduce the number of stray dogs in the city at the time.The French dogs were brought across the ocean by John Quincy Adams, who found the task of escorting them distasteful (apparently the sixth U.S. president was not a dog person).  In a letter to Lafayette of September 1, 1785, Washington reveals more about the ultimate source of the animals:

“The Hounds which you were so obliging as to send me arrived safe, and are of promising appearance; to Monsieur le Compte Doilliamson (if I miscall him, your handwriting is to blame, and in honor you are bound to rectify the error); and in an especial manner to his fair Competesse, my thanks are due for this favor: the enclosed letter which I give you the trouble of forwarding contains my acknowledgement of their obliging attention to me on this occasion.”

The partially illegible letter from Lafayette is reproduced in a note by Jackson and Twohig: "French Hounds are not now very easily got because the King Makes use of english dogs, as Being more swift than those of Normandy. I However Have got seven from a Normand Gentleman Called Monsieur le Comte doilliamson. The Handsomest Bitch Among them was a favourite with his lady who Makes a present of Her to You."

This was followed by a letter from Washington to the Comte d’Oilliamson in France:

Washington's letter to Comte d'Oilliamson (Letterbox 12, 187)
“Sir: I have just received seven very fine Hounds [three dogs, four bitches], for which, the Marqs. de la Fayette informs me, I am indebted to your goodness. I know not in what terms to acknowledge my gratitude for the obligation, but pray you to be assured that I have a due sense of the honor; and feel in a particular manner the force of the goodness of Madame la Comptesse, to whom the Marqs. adds, I am beholden for a favorite hound. I pray you to offer my best respects, and to make my acknowledgment of this favor, acceptable to her: at the sametime I beg you to assure her that her favorite shall not suffer under my care, but become the object of my particular attention. I have the honor, etc.”

A diary entry for September 19, 1785, describes Washington familiarizing his new batch of dogs with his estate: “Took my French Hounds with me for the purpose of Airing them & giving them a knowledge of the grounds round about this place.”  One of the French hound bitches had apparently gotten pregnant in transit and had a litter on September 30:  “One of the Hound Bitches wch. was sent to me from France brought forth 15 puppies this day; 7 of which (the rest being as many as I thought she could rear) I had drowned.”

Washington enlisted dogs from neighbors to help the French dogs learn the American habits of the chase, as indicated in an entry from November 1785:

“Went out after Breakfast with my hounds from France, & two which were lent me, yesterday, by young Mr. Mason. Found a Fox which was run tolerably well by two of the Frh. Bitches & one of Mason's Dogs. The other French Dogs shewed but little disposition to follow and with the second Dog of Mason's got upon another Fox which was followed slow and indifferently by some & not at all by the rest until the sent became so cold that it cd. not be followed at all.”

Some progress was made with the French hounds by December 1785, according to a diary entry:

“It being a good scenting morning I went out with the Hounds (carrying the two had from Colo. McCarty). Run at different two foxes but caught neither. My French Hounds performed better to day; and have afforded hopes of their performing well, when they come to be a little more used to Hunting, and understand more fully the kind of game they are intended to run.”

Irving believes that Washington was never fully satisfied with the French hounds:

“The passion for hunting had revived with Washington on returning to his old hunting-grounds; but he had no hounds. His kennel had been broken up when he went to the wars, and the dogs given away, and it was not easy to replace them. After a time he received several hounds from France, sent out by Lafayette and other of the French officers, and once more sallied forth to renew his ancient sport. The French hounds, however, proved indifferent; he was out with them repeatedly, putting other hounds with them borrowed from gentlemen of the neighbourhood. They improved after a while, but were never stanch, and caused him frequent disappointments. Probably he was not as stanch himself as formerly; an interval of several years may have blunted his keenness, if we may judge from the following entry in his diary: ‘Out after breakfast with my hounds ; found a fox and ran him sometimes hard, and sometimes at cold hunting, from 11 till near 2—when I came home and left the huntsmen with them, who followed in the same manner two hours or more, and then took the dogs off without killing.’”

Brissot's interview with Washington, 1788 (published 1797)
When Jacques Pierre Brissot visited Mount Vernon in 1788, he did not discuss Washinton’s dogs, but a plate in the book of his travels published in 1797 shows Brissot and Washington with one of the hounds. 

Curiously, Washington may have gotten rid of his dogs in order to preserve the few deer he had left at Mount Vernon.  In a letter to Richard Chichester of August 1792, he writes:

“I have about a dozen deer (some of which are of the common sort) which are no longer confined in the Paddock which was made for them, but range in all my woods, and often pass my exterior fence. It is true I have scarcely a hope of preserving them long, although they come up almost every day, but I am unwilling by any act of my own to facilitate their destruction; for being as much afraid of Hounds (on which acct. I parted with all mine) as the wild deer are, and no man living being able, (as they have no collars on) to distinguish them whilst they are running from the wild deer, I might, and assuredly should have them killed by this means. For this reason as it can be no object since Mr. Fairfax, I am informed, is unwilling to have his Woods at Belvoir hunted, I am desirous of preserving mine. I am, etc.”

Irving recounts that for a time Washington appears to have considered stocking his estate with deer, and that he wrote to England in hopes of getting some deer sent to him.  This proved to be unnecessary as a Mr. Ogle of Maryland presented him with “six fawns from his park of English deer at Bellair.”

In late 1793, Washington was informed that a neighbor may have killed one of his deer, though he was perhaps not convinced there was any blame.  He wrote to Richard Chichester as follows:

“There must have been some misconception on the part of Colo. Burgess Ball if he understood that I had been informed it was you, who had killed my English Buck; for no such information that I can recollect ever was given to me. I had heard before the rect. of your letter but how, is more like a dream than reality, that that particular Deer was killed on Ravensworth. Nor did I ever suppose that you would have been so unneighbourly as to kill any of my Deer knowing them to be such; but as they had broke out the Paddock in which they had been confined and were going at large, and besides consisted as well of Country as English Deer. I wished to protect them as much as I was able and upon that principle, and that alone, declined giving the permission you asked to hunt some of my Woods adjoining to yours, knowing that they did not confine themselves within my exterior fences, and moreover that, when Hounds are in pursuit, no person could distinguish them from the wild Deer of the Forest.”

A letter of December 1792 refers to the estate’s hound kennel having burned down.  I am advised by a current excavator of Mount Vernon that no evidence of a kennel on Mount Vernon has been found in excavations of the site. 

Washington may have regretted getting rid of all the hounds, as he realized in time that there could be too many deer on his property.  In a letter of January 1797 to James Anderson of Philadelphia, he writes:

“The Gardener complains heavily of the injury which he sustains from my half wild, half tame Deer; and I do not well know what course to take, especially as the hard weather, if it continues, will make them grow more and more bold and mischievous. Two methods have occurred, one or both combined, may, possibly, keep them out of the Gardens and Lawns; namely, to get a couple of hounds, and whenever they are seen in, or near those places, to fire at them with shot of a small kind that would make them smart, but neither kill or maim them. If this will not keep them at a distance, I must kill them in good earnest, as the lesser evil of the two.”

He repeats the idea of getting a few hounds to chase off the deer only a few weeks later in another letter. 

Irish Wolf Hounds

In a letter to Lafayette of May 1786, Washington expressed interest in obtaining Irish wolf hounds.  Almost two years later, Washington received a letter from Sir Edward Newenham, who described the difficulty in finding such dogs:

“I have just received a letter from your noble and virtuous friend, the Marquis de la Fayette, in which he communicates your wish to obtain a breed of the true Irish wolf dog, and desires me to procure it. I have been these several years endeavoring to get that breed without success; it is nearly annihilated. I have heard of a bitch in the north of Ireland, but not of a couple anywhere. I am also told that the Earl of Altamont has a breed that is nearly genuine; if he has I will procure two from him. The Marquis also wants some at his domain, where he is troubled by the wolves. If mastiffs would be of any service I could send you some large ones, which are our guard dogs; you will honor me with your commands about them. They are very fierce, faithful, and long-lived.”

Writing to Charles Carter, Washington explains his interest in the Irish dog:

“Mastiffs, I conceive, will not answer the purposes for which the wolf dog is wanted. They will guard a pen, which pen may be secured by its situation, by our dogs, and various other ways; but your object, if I have a right conception of it, is to hunt and destroy wolves by pursuit, for which the mastiff is altogether unfit. If the proper kind can be had I have no doubt of their being sent by Sir Edward, who has sought all occasions to be obliging to me. I am etc.”

There is no indication in Washington’s correspondence that he ever got any dogs of this breed.  Nor is it clear that he had any actual need to repel wolves.  In a letter to Arthur Young in June 1792, he states:  “Sheep thrive very well in the middle States, though they are not exempt from deseases, and are often injured by dogs; and more so as you approach the Mountains, by wolves.”  Mount Vernon hardly qualifies.  Perhaps Washington thought that the wolfhounds could catch the dogs that he imagined slaves were using to rob his flocks.   

Dogs of Slaves

Washington expressed his concern about slaves using dogs to steal sheep in a letter to Anthony Whiting of December 1792:

“I am not less concerned to find that I am, forever, sustaining loss in my Stock of Sheep (particularly). I not only approve of your killing those Dogs which have been the occasion of the late loss, and of thinning the Plantations of others, but give it as a positive order, that after saying what dog, or dogs shall remain, if any negro presumes under any pretence whatsoever, to preserve, or bring one into the family, that he shall be severely punished, and the dog hanged. I was obliged to adopt this practice whilst I resided at home, and from the same motives, that is, for the preservation of my Sheep and Hogs; but I observed when I was at home last that a new set of dogs was rearing up, and I intended to have spoke about them, but one thing or another always prevented it. It is not for any good purpose Negros raise, or keep dogs; but to aid them in their night robberies; for it is astonishing to see the command under which their dogs are. I would no more allow the Overseers than I would the Negros, to keep Dogs. One, or at most two on a Plantation is enough. The pretences for keeping more will be various, and urgent, but I will not allow more than the above notwithstanding.”

There is no census of the slaves’ dogs, though at Brissot’s visit in 1788 the slaves numbered 300, “distributed in different log houses, in different parts of the plantation.”  Hanging dogs seems to have been a way of shocking slaves into acceptance of the restrictions on their ownership of dogs.  This one-dog policy for slaves comes in a letter written while Washington was president.  A letter of January 1793 indicates that he may have doubted whether sheep theft could actually be stopped:

“Let Mr. Crow [Hiland Crow, overseer at Ferry and French’s farms] know, that I view with a very evil eye the frequent reports made by him of Sheep dying. When they are destroyed by Dogs it is more to be regretted than avoided perhaps, but frequent natural deaths is a very strong evidence to my mind of the want of care, or something worse, as the sheep are culled every year, and the old ones drawn out.”

It is quite possible that the slaves were active with their dogs at night. This was the only time they had to themselves. John James Audobon, as noted in a prior blog, described his slaves using their own dogs to hunt wildcat, raccoon, opossum, and such other nocturnal animals as might cross their paths.

It is to be noted that Washington had given orders in the French and Indian War, during a silent march, that all dogs with the army were to be tied up and muzzled or sent back to post. Any dog that remained loose was to be hanged on the spot. Randall, in his biography of Washington, also notes that Washington ordered that any man who discharged a rifle on the march would receive 200 lashes on his bare back on the spot. (It was for his stealthy night marches that Washington came to be known during the American Revolution as the Old Fox.)  


A diary entry for July 1769 states:  “A Dog coming here which I suspected to be Mad, I shot him. Several of the Hounds running upon him may have got bit. Note the consequences.”  One of the French dogs Washington got in 1785 was suspected of becoming rabid in 1786. A diary entry for November of that year states:

“A Hound bitch which like most of my other hounds appearing to be going Mad and had been shut up getting out, my Servant Will in attempting to get her in again was snapped at by her at the arm. The Teeth penetrated through his Coat and Shirt and contused the Flesh but he says did not penetrate the skin nor draw any blood. This happened on Monday forenoon. The part affected appeared to swell a little to day.”

In 1797, he sent one of his slaves to Dr. William Stoy in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in hopes of having him treated before rabies developed from a dog bite:

“Sir: On Monday last, the bearer was Bit by a Small Dog belonging to a Lady in my house, then as was supposed a little diseased. And Yesternight died (I do think) in a State of madness.  As soon as the Boy (Christopher) was Bit application was made to a medical Gentleman in Alexandria who has cut out so far as He could, the place Bit, applyed Ointment to keep it open, And put the Boy under a Course of Mercury But being informed of Your success in performing cures on [mutilated] And worse cases, has induced me to send Him to You, and put Him under Your care. Trusting You will do everything in Your Power, to prevent any bad consequences from the Bite, And have at the same time Wrote to Mr. Slough in Lancaster to pay whatever is Your charge, And whenever the Boy arrives do Write me, And Your Opinion of Him, for besides the call of Humanity, I am particularly anxious for His cure. He being my own Body servant. The Mercury will be mostly discontinued upon His leaving this place, and untill He reaches You. And am Sir Yours etc.”

Washington was pleased with the result, as indicated in a letter from March 1798 to Dr. Stoy:

“As I think your charge for the prescription application to Christopher (my servant), who was supposed to be bitten by a mad dog, is a very reasonable one, I send you enclosed a five dollar bank note of Alexandria (having no other paper money by me); without enquiring whether your not having received four dollars before, proceeded from the neglect of the Servant, or any other person. Christopher continues to do well, and I believe is now free from apprehension of any bad consequences from the bite. I shall beg to be informed of your receipt of this letter, being unwilling that you should go unpaid. I am etc.”

In 1794, one of Washington’s aides wrote to Dr. James Mease of Philadelphia:

“Sir: The President of the U States has reed, your Letter together with a copy of your essay on the disease produced by the bite of a mad-dog. The President has directed me to assure you that his sincere wishes are offered for the useful effects of a work calculated to throw light on a subject so interesting; and to make his acknowledgements for your politeness in presenting it to him. I am etc.”

Mease’s theories concerning the nature of rabies proved superior to those of Benjamin Rush, according to Wasik and Murphy’s recent book on the history of the disease.

Last Dogs

Washington had long been familiar with terriers, which he always spelled “tarriers.”  Correspondence for 1796 indicates he had become concerned with breeding them, and wanted to keep this line pure as had been a concern with the hounds:

“I hope Frank has taken particular care of the Tarriers. I directed him to observe when the female was getting into heat, and let her be immediately shut up; and no other than the male Tarrier get to her. I wish you well, and am etc.”

Perhaps, like most people getting old, he began preferring smaller dogs, though in a letter of December 1797 from Mount Vernon, he mentions taking care of a pointer for Thomas Law until Law could send for the dog. 


Washington’s English ancestors included avid hunters who understood that hunting in royal forests and on large estates was an activity not open to all, and to various degrees they benefited by being of sufficient rank to enjoy the privilege of taking game.  They would have understood that commoners, such as peasants living on their lands, and those of the lords they served, were precluded from hunting deer and sometimes other game, both by place and by season, and something of these attitudes likely arrived with them in Virginia in the mid-seventeenth century.  It would go too far to suggest that Washington’s orders regarding the number of dogs his slaves could own was a vestige of the forest law that allowed killing and maiming dogs that might disturb the peace of the king’s game, but the incident fits within the broader concept that those who owned the land, or had rights to hunt it, could restrict the use of dogs by those of lesser rank who lived on or near such land. 

It is not fair to judge our first president by modern concepts of humaneness, nor to expect that he should keep alive dogs for which an estate such as Mount Vernon had no use.  Neither can it be expected that a slave owner would overlook the activities of slaves of which he disapproved, and it is arguable that hanging dogs before their masters was a way of frightening the slaves sufficiently that no punishment would be needed for the owners of the animals.  Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to overlook such facts in an effort to make the first president into a precursor of later cooing pet lovers in the White House.  He lived in an age when dogs were expected to be useful, and likely more than any of his successors in office knew how to make them so.  

Note on art:  Most depictions of Washington hunting or standing with his hounds date from after his death.  As for what Washington himself thought artistic treatment of the chase should show, Jackson and Twohig refer to a print found in Washington's collection at his death, which these authors label, "The Death of the Fox."  I am advised by a curator of Mount Vernon that this was part of a series of fox-hunting prints Washington purchased while serving as president in Philadelphia, likely to furnish the executive residence. The print was made from a painting by John Wootton, now in the Tate Gallery, painted between 1733 and 1736 as part of a series called "Viscount Weymouth's Hunt." This particular painting is specifically entitled: Thomas, 2nd Viscount Weymouth, with a Black Page and Other Huntsmen at the Kill. The figure in the center holds the limp body of the fox above the heads of the still-eager dogs.  (I could find no copy in Wikimedia commons and the Tate would charge me £64 for posting.)


Andrews, E. Benjamin (1894) History of the United States (4 vols.) New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Brissot, J.P.  (1797). Travels in the United States of America, performed in 1788.  In Historical Account of the Most Celebrated Voyages, Travels, and Discoveries from the Time of Columbus to the Present Period (Mavor, Wm., ed.) London: E. Newbery.

Coren, Stanley (2009).  George Washington: President, General and Dog Breeder.  Psychology Today, January 2, 2009 (describing Washington’s use of the Gloucester Hunting Club in New Jersey). 

Ekirch, A. Roger (2005).  At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. New York.  W.W. Norton & Co. (describing how slaves were owned by their masters in the day, but sought to conduct their own affairs through the night).

Ellet, Elizabeth (1819). The Women of the American Revolution.  New York: Baker & Scribner (mentioning a Newfoundland dog starting a fire in a house by pushing over a lamp, during the advance of the army to Fort Edward).

Fiske, John (1891). The American Revolution, vol. 1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co.

Fitzpatrick, John C. (ed.) (1931-1944).  The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, in 39 volumes.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (also available online in searchable format at a University of Virginia website).

Irving, Washington (1856-1859). Life of George Washington (4 vols.).  New York: G.P. Putnam. 

Jackson, Donald, and Twohig, Dorothy (1976). The Diaries of George Washington.  Charlottesville: University Press. 

Nash, Gary B. (2006). The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America.  New York: Viking Press (mentioning, at xxiv, the only possible instance of a dog in battle during the Revolutionary War that I have so far encountered: “[George] Lippard often dissolve the line between fiction and history in his revolutionary tales…. The story of the muscular Black Sampson of the ‘Oath-Bound Five,’ who avenged the British murder of his white mistress by plunging into the Battle of Brandywine against the redcoats with Debbil, his ferocious dog, was pure fiction.”).

Page, William (ed., 1905). The Victoria History of the County of Durham, vol. 1. London: Archibald Constable & Co.  (Quoting the Boldon Book specifically as to William of Hertburn: “William of Hertburn holds WESSINGTON except the church and the land belonging to the church, in exchange for the vill of Hertburn which he quitclaimed for this, and he renders 4 pounds and goes on the great hunt with two hunting-dogs, and when the general aid comes he ought to give in addition 1 mark of the aid.”  This source states that the Wessyngtons owed a kind of service called drengage, describing this as follows: “Probably the incidents most characteristic of drengage were the duty of taking part in the bishop's hunt, the 'magna caza,' including the provision of a horse and a dog, which had to be cared for throughout the year, and the obligation of carrying the bishop's messages. “Drengus pascit canem et equum, et vadit in magna caza cum ii leporariis et v cordis . . . et vadit in legationibus' is a characteristic entry that frequently recurs….”  This source notes that a dog-kennel (Latin: canillum) was constructed specifically for the great hunt.  In addition to providing two dogs, the Wessyngtons were to provide five ropes.)

Randall, Willard Sterne (1997).  George Washington: A Life.  New York: Henry Holt & Co. (describing, at 101, how the French, in the French and Indian War, had killed shot dogs near Washington's encampment lest the British forces be able to eat them during a siege).

Thacher, James (1812). Observations on Hydrophobia Produced by the Bite of a Mad Dog, or Other Rabid Animal.  Plymouth, Mass.: Joseph Avery (quoting extensively from the writings of Dr. James Mease). 

Tiger, Caroline (2005).  General Howe’s Dog: George Washington, the Battle for Germantown and the Dog Who Crosse Enemy Lines.  London: Chamberlain Bros.

Wasik, Bill, and Murphy, Monica (2012). Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus.  New York: Viking Books (noting that Mease believed that hydrophobia was a disease of the nervous system, in contradiction to Rush, who categorized it as an inflammatory fever).  

Wilstach, Paul (1916). Mount Vernon: Washington's Home and the Nation's Shrine. New York: Doubleday, Page, & Co.