Animal Studies Bibliography
McHugh, Susan. 2004. Dog. London: Reaktion.
(Summarized by Christina Leshko, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)
Origins. Susan McHugh launches into her cultural history of the dog by emphasizing the breadth and depth of information that abounds across time, region, and civilization. This breadth of knowledge is due to varying categorizations of dogs within separate cultures, the dog’s broad geographic range and adaptability, as well as his hold on the title for the “longest history of domestication of any animal” (p. 7). McHugh demonstrates that the biological classification of domestic dogs as a species is a fallacy as Canis familiaris is not only able to exchange genes (interbreed) with a range of domestic dog breeds, but also mates successfully with a number of other non-domesticated species, including dingoes, coyotes, jackals and wolves. Canis familiaris was assumed to be the long-ago descendant of the gray wolf, with origins dating as far back as 500,000 years, but McHugh reveals that this supposition is now uncertain. The issue demonstrates “…a larger struggle within biology over how to define ‘species’, whether morphologically (according to measurable differences) or ecologically (according to adaptation to a specific environment)” (p. 14). Prehistoric evidence shows that dogs evolved alongside humans globally and that dogs have also been essential to early human advancement through their assistance with hunting.
While the phylogenetics remain undecided, what IS certain is that the determination of a dog as a dog is cultural. Thus the determination of a dog as food, guardian, worker, etc. is also cultural. The origin of dog is perceived as a story of human domination over “weaker” wolves, creating “a long-standing relationship with racial hierarchies” (p. 27), with race substituted for species. Thus “dog” is often a derogatory term associated with indigenous peoples or the lower class; “Dog terms enable discrimination and social power imbalances” (p. 52). For example, Ancient Greeks depicted Indians as connected with dogs through a “noble savage” representation. Furthermore, dogs in Native American and Near Eastern cultures became symbols of uncleanliness and abhorrent behavior. In post-Victorian suburbia, “keeping canine bitches ostensibly concerned class” (p. 52).
Dogs revered in religion and mythology serve as pyschopomps, guarding or gate-keeping the land of the dead or mediating some spiritual connection. This role reinforces “…profoundly ambivalent attitudes toward living dogs” (p. 42). Dogs are both revered as gods (Anubis) and sacrificed to gods through ritual eating practices. Dog-eating is not uncommon in ancient and medieval histories and is even served as a delicacy in the Philippines, Korea, Nigeria and Spain today. Controversially, many cultures raise dogs as livestock for meat. Westerners frequently affiliate dog-eating with the poor and use the tradition as a basis for discrimination.
Belief in the dog’s association with health is also longstanding. The dog is thought to take illness away from a person through a ritual transfer. This belief was maintained well into the 14th century as British physicians recommended women keep lapdogs to serve as a warm compress on the abdomen. “Hair of the dog,” a phrase which, today refers to a remedy foroverconsumption of alcohol, is literally explained by the practice of eating dog hair to treat hangovers and various other ailments.
Breed. While many contemporary dog breeders cite cultural evidence as proof of ancient dog breeding practices, modern breed standards have only been created “within the past 300 years” (p. 58). Greyhounds and Fu/Fo dogs have had specific qualities and symbolic associations attached to them the most consistently through time (such as masculinity, loyalty and courtly life). Lap/toy dogs have also had a consistent affiliation as a “luxurious plaything for women” (p. 83) and a means to reveal female promiscuity and adultery.
Breed clubs emerged in Britain in the late 18th century and were promptly emulated in the US. Allegedly, “knowledge of breed traits can even help people to make informed decisions when selecting canine companions” (pg. 60). However, this assumption leads to the reinforcement of breed stereotypes more frequently than accurate representations, as purebreds with personality-specific designations are frequently inaccurate. Problems with breeding practices include genetic defects, inbreeding, and overpopulation.
The idea of dog as family member emerged in the industrial era of the Western world. In the Victorian era, “the breed dog served as a means of securing – and as a marker of achieving – elite status in the show ring, as well as at home” (p. 101). This elite status between purebreds and nobility was maintained into the late 19th century and continues to be maintained today in both formal institutions, such as the American Kennel Club, and media representations (Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, etc).
Dogs used in media representations have faired relatively well due to industry regulation of animal actors in the 20th century. However, dogs used in live entertainment, especially “sporting” activities,” have not fared as well, historically or in modern times. McHugh states, “Like greyhounds in racing, animal competitors in baiting and fighting risk life and limb, while human participants largely see them as pretexts for gambling” (p. 111). Animal competitors are bred specifically for traits valuable to the fight and have provided “the legendary origin of ‘pit bulls’ (or American Staffordshire terriers” (p. 113), a history that still haunts them in their designation as public enemies. Although banned as early in Britain as the Protestant Reformation, underground dog fighting is still a problem in many parts of the world.
McHugh describes the association between dogs and militarism, referencing the history of war dogs with “ancient roots in the empires of Assyria, Babylon and Egypt” (p. 115). Germany set the tone for the use of German Shepherds in military training and patrol duties. Post World War I, the German government developed a model system, providing guide dogs to veterans blinded in service. This breed also has renown for its use against oppressed peoples; German Shepherds were used by Nazi’s in the Holocaust and by police during the Civil Rights movement in the US to control and instill terror.
Mutts. The concept of “breed” implies eugenic hygiene and a measure of superiority over “non-breed dogs” (p. 128). Most cultural associations with mutts are negative as “canine strays, like indigent humans, have long been identified as symptoms of social problems” (p. 130). Mongrels, along with their human counterparts, “have long been seen as presentingideological as well as physical threats” (p. 30). In the 20th century, the perspective began to shift and the mutt began to emerge as the very literal underdog, “combating the mechanisms of social oppression” (p. 136). This also sparked an anti-cruelty movement, as individuals began to view dogs as an extension of the self, an animal victim (p. 139).
In literature and media, the non-breed dog is frequently depicted as the unlikely hero, physically ugly and almost exclusively male. The line between non-breed and breed dogs functions as a representation of social contrast. Yet as human-dog relationships evolve, dogs begin to be viewed as agents and active participants in cultural spheres (p. 164).
Dog Futures. In the full swing of the 21st century, it is clear that dogs have contributed to profound scientific breakthroughs, serving as both catalyst and critique of human culture (p. 171). Dogs are strongly characterized as “silent servants” in the recent history of medical research. Furthermore, dogs have been essential to not only ocean and Arctic exploration, but space travel as well. Beck’s 1970 study of feral dogs in Baltimore brought “conceptions of the responsibilities of dog ownership” into focus, along with public health concerns that have been institutionalized in leash and clean-up laws (p. 178). Having evolved alongside humans for thousands of year, dogs genetics may provide unique insights into the future of human evolution.