With an estimated 85 million families reported to own dogs in the United States today, it is easy to see that pampered pooches play a prominent role in the lives of the American public at large. However, over the past few decades, the landscape of the average home has dramatically changed. With many people choosing to remain single longer and couples requiring both incomes to make ends meet, dog ownership has seen a slight decrease in favor of cats, a creature that requires less care throughout the workday. But it is not simply the change in work schedules and family structures that have led to the differences in today’s dog ownership. The perspective of the pet-buying public has also changed considerably. While dogs of old ate scraps from the master’s table or the cheapest kibble on the supermarket shelf, the canine companions sharing our homes today are fed designer kibble or raw or home-prepared foods with supplements added to increase everything from longevity to brain function to stamina for performance sports. Gone are the days of simply bones to chew to prevent tooth decay. In their place are regular dental cleanings to promote proper dental health. For dogs suffering from joint pain, the modern world of veterinary medicine offers hydrotherapy, acupuncture, CBD oil, and specialty medications designed to reduce inflammation and discomfort. Owning a dog decades ago was a simple process. Today, managing our dogs’ busy calendar of events alongside our family responsibilities is often takes Herculean efforts. What are the ways that dog ownership has changed over the years?
The Early Years of Dog Ownership
From the beginning of time, man has shared his home with dogs. The original dog lived in the wild and was forced to be self-sufficient in order to survive. Over time, this creature became domesticated and learned to trust and enjoy the companionship of human beings.
The early dog was often the prized possession of families who made use of the dog in various different jobs. Dogs have assisted with procuring food for their masters, for pulling or carrying heavy loads of supplies, and even for modes of transportation. In this sense, the dog’s original purpose was purely functional. Since food was often difficult to come by in the primitive world, owners could not afford to keep a dog simply for companionship. Therefore, in order to earn a place in the master’s home, the dog had to work to earn his keep. This, of course, did not mean that the owner did not love his canine companion. It was simply a different, and far more practical, viewpoint. The dog ate the leftovers from the meals enjoyed by his people; perhaps where his love of bones came from. Alternatively, the dog could hunt for food all his own to enjoy.
It is believed that the wild dog became domesticated 12,000-14,000 years ago. This shift occurred when human beings began to discover the trainability of young pups, making it possible for them to molded to fulfill important jobs.
Another popular job enjoyed by newly domesticated dogs approximately 8,000 years ago was keeping the varmint population under control. With more modern farming and harvesting techniques now employed, dogs were extremely useful in keeping rodents out of grain silos, barns, and even dwelling places.
The early dog also enjoyed a role which was rich in culture. Some countries placed dead bodies out in the open for dogs to consume; a ritual which was believed was necessary for the person to pass from this life to the next. Other cultures maintained that dogs functioned as a sort of talisman to provide protection against evil and death. The Greeks asserted that close companionship with dogs resulted in great healing properties.
As early as Egyptian times, artwork exists which represents the aristocratic classes with dogs as companion animals. These include such prominent figures as pharaohs. Chinese emperors also displayed a fondness for dogs as did both the nobles of Greek and Roman lineage.
Pet Ownership in the 13th to 17th Centuries
In the 13th through the 15th centuries, pet ownership had been largely restricted to the clergy and the wealthy. Lap dogs were especially popular with ladies of the nobility, taking pride of place at luncheons, in cafes, and in restaurants. The gentlemen of the day favored hounds that would be useful on hunting expeditions. Since hunting was a long-established tradition of the elite, there became an increased interest in breeding dogs suited to the pursuit of each specific type of game.
Unfortunately, during this time, the church took a rather bleak view of dog ownership, maintaining that food given to sustain an animal could be better used to feed those in poverty. It is also a probable notion that this assertion was an easy scapegoat when the real reasoning behind discouraging pet ownership was a suspicion of the worship of animals, a practice frowned upon by the church.
During the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, possession of an animal was often associated with a relationship with the devil and was punishable by death. Over time, the practice of witchcraft decreased, and companion animals resumed their position in family homes and around hearths.
Though it seems strange to us, people living in the Middle Ages formed a mental connection between a bond towards an animal and an unnatural affection.
Pet Ownership Gains Popularity
Near the turn of the 18th century, pet ownership saw a dramatic rise when the middle classes joined the ranks of the aristocrats in keeping a dog as a family companion. It was during the 19th century that the trend moved towards pet ownership which is most similar to what we see today.
The tradition of dog breeding had been a popular practice in Britain for many centuries. It was there that an interest was derived of hosting dog shows where animals would be judged on the prescribed merits as outlined by their breed standards. This practice first took place in 1859 at an event that showcased Pointer and Setter breeds.
During this time, many dog breeds moved away from being dogs kept solely to perform a job to cherished family pets. However, dogs were still relegated as appropriate only for the middle and upper classes.
Pet Ownership Today
Today, dog ownership looks vastly different from years gone by. Our dogs have taken pride of place on the sofa, in the front seat of our cars, and even in our beds.
Our choice of breed, or mixed breed, is often an expression of our personality or the lifestyle we seek to live. Only rarely do dogs today have jobs; however, we do devote a large amount of time to keeping our canine companions physically and mentally stimulated; whether is through dog performance sports, hiking, walking, or even just a good old fashioned, rousing game of fetch in the backyard.
To ask the average dog owner why they own a dog, the answer would be common to nearly every person queried: for companionship. Today, our dogs enjoy their role as friend and cherished family member. We accept them in our homes and hearts and love them equally as much as siblings, husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers. They often receive equal consideration when planning where to go on a holiday or what to have for dinner.
Though little thought was given in the past to our emotions surrounding dogs and their attachment to us as human beings, today, we openly love and are deeply loved in return. Our dogs help to reduce our stress levels and increase our activity, providing health benefits for us.
Long gone are the days of leftovers for supper. Sometimes Fido’s dining is far finer than our own. Today’s dog owner prioritizes treating their canine companion like a prince or princess and takes great pleasure in doing so. Our dogs have all of the benefits of family membership. In fact, many enjoy a few more privileges than their human counterparts since it is hard to resist their puppy dog eyes.
We now know more than we once did, making us far better suited to keeping our dogs contented canine companions. We understand positive reinforcement training techniques which help us to teach our dogs to learn new things in a manner that is engaging and fun for our dogs. We see the value in doing things together, simply because it is good for our health and because we enjoy spending time with our best canine pals. We place a high emphasis on high quality nutrition, supplements, and regular veterinary care to keep our cherished canine pals happy and well, meaning their longevity is increased. A lot has changed since the dog was a wild animal dependent only upon himself for survival.
Yes, dog ownership has greatly changed throughout the years. Though once primarily valued for the work it did; today, our dogs are beloved members of our families. Though change is not always a welcome scenario, our dogs would agree that this new style of dog ownership is definitely good!