History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 April 2010

More Four-Footed Friends, or Meet My Mastiff

Leslie’s post about Spaniels inspired me to talk a little about my own dog: Clancy. He’s a Mastiff (a reverse brindle, very beautiful and very sweet). I grew up with Newfoundlands, Great Danes (aka Boar Hounds) and Irish Wolfhounds (all period breeds for my Georgian characters, though Wolfhounds and their cousins the Scottish Deerhounds were exceedingly rare during this period).

I lucked into a copy of The Complete Dog-Fancier’s Companion; describing the Nature, Habits, Properties &c. of Sporting, Fancy, and other Dogs from 1819 a few years ago. It talks about various breeds, instructions for rearing, training, and basic care (the veterinary advice is quite frightening), and has an amazing rant about the evils of blood sports that ends with: For the sake of humanity, it is to be hoped, that the cruelty exercised on the animal, had- been repented of by his master, the greater brute of the two [emphasis in original], and that there are none at present who could be guilty of a similar outrage.

One of the breeds featured is the Mastiff. Now, you know I’m prejudiced, as I own one, but they truly are magnificent dogs. My first book, Lord Sin, featured an Italian mastiff (a Neapolitan in modern terms) named Caesar. My next book, Ripe for Pleasure (coming out next year under my new pen name, Isobel Carr), features a mongrel mastiff or butcher’s dog (basically a Bullmastiff) that was inspired by my sister’s dog, Slag (a littermate of my Clancy).

Here is what the magazine has to say about Mastiffs:

The mastiff is much larger than the bull-dog, and every way formed for the important trust of guarding and securing the valuable property committed to his care. Houses, gardens, yards &c. are safe from depredations whilst in his keeping. Contained during the day, as soon as the gates are locked, he is left to range at full liberty: he then goes round the premises, examines every part of the them, and by loud barkings, gives notice that he is ready to defend his charge.

Well, my boy sleeps all night (ok, he sleeps most of the day too, LOL), but he does snap-to at the slightest hint of intrusion or danger and I’ve no doubt that he’d defend me and his “turf” if there was ever a need to do so (and let me tell you, the UPS man and the occasional religious evangelists are in no doubt of this either; though now that Jorge the UPS man has been introduced he no longer gets anything more than a tail-wagging hello through the window).

Much of what the author of my little magazine says elsewhere is surprising either for its prescience or its enduing common sense. At one point he notes that people commonly suppose dogs to be the civilized descendants of wolves! Remember this is 1819, before Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Under the training section the author advises: When you correct him to keep him in awe, do it rather with words than blows . . . When he hath done any thing to your mind and pleasure, you must reward him with a piece of bread. Sounds just like puppy training class to me, LOL!

Another book published in 1800, the Cynographia Britannica, said about the breed:

What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog, the noblest of the family; he stands alone, and all others sink before him. His courage does not exceed his temper and generosity, and in attachment he equals the kindest of his race.

I’m simply drawn to these giant dogs like no other I’ve ever encountered, and after owning one of my own, I can’t imagine ever owning anything else (ok, I can imagine owning most giant breeds, but they’re basically a type of mastiff or a mastiff spin off). I certainly find my love for them popping up in my books. I need to branch out and give the people in my next book something else . . . I can see some kind of coach dog for them maybe (aka a Dalmation).

Pictures, top to bottom: My boy, Clancy (and yes, that's one massive head and huge tongue); the illustration of the the Mastiff included in the magazine; Pluto, c. 1830, one of the foundation sires of the modern breed and another inspiration for the mastiff in my upcoming book.


Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kalen, that 1819 book sounds wonderful; evidently there are some usiversal truths about dog training, etc. And clearly Michael Vick didn't get the memo.

I have to admit that I've always been frightened (in awe, plus, plus) of large dogs (and my father used to tell my younger sister and me that when we saw a Doberman we should quietly cross to the opposite side of the street). And my uncle Adam, who barely stood five feet tall had a pair of Irish Wolfhounds at one point, both rescue dogs and both entirely undisciplined.

Your post has given me a newfound[land] appreciation of the larger breeds.

Oh -- have you ever read any of Andrew Vachhs's gritty NYC crime novels? In the early books his principal character, Burke, has a Neapolitan mastiff who is a marvelous character.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ooo, I haven't come across those. I'll check them out.

I clearly remember the same thing about Dobies (which makes sense since we're about the same age and they were the "evil" dog of our youth; much as pit bulls are now).

How out of control can a Wolfhound be? Most of the ones I know are so mellow they barely even bother to wag their tail when you come in the room.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kalen, the 2 wolfhounds were hyperactive. I have no idea what their owners were like with them before my uncle and aunt got them. All I remember was that they were like the proverbial bulls in the china shop, clueless about their own size and strength and always knocking things over.

Oh, I made a typo in Andrew Vachss's name. It has the 2 s's as I just spelled it, not 2 h's, in case you want to look him up. He is a genius at world-building and I can't put his books down.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Kalen - One of my neighbors has a Bullmastiff who has free run of their enormous, wooded backyard. He always stands up on his hind legs to lean on the fence and bark loudly when I walk my German Shepherd. Mercifully, he and Honey have now decided that each other are no threat whatsoever and behave with perfect propriety. But I can't imagine anybody getting away with breaking into his house!

Lucky Clancy to have lucked into your life!

11:59 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Fabulous post, Kalen! The 1819 book sounds amazing. So cool, as Leslie says, that there are apparently universal truths about dog training. Yet another example of actions and attitudes we might think of as "modern" not being so very recent in origin.

I like big dogs. My cousin has a Kuvasz and a Flat-Coated retriever, both of whom make my other cousin's golden lab look "small" at family parties (yes, we bring our pets to family parties; at Christmas we had four dogs and two cats present, at Thanksgiving four dogs and three cats). But for myself, I'm very fond of little dogs. I love the portability of being able to take them places. My dog is a lhasa/poodle mix, twenty pounds, and easy to carry (though she sometimes objects to the indignity of being picked up).

12:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Your dog is such a sweetheart, Tracy. And she’s so good, especially in the car.

My family and friends brings our dogs everywhere too. A casual dinner can mean 6-10 dogs (most of them mastiffs, danes or pit bulls). I got asked at Thanksgiving to put the dogs out by a guest of guest. He got told he could stay on the porch if they bothered him so much!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Kalen! Gemma (my dog) loves to ride in the car. She'd much rather go along and stay in the car than be left at home.

Love the story about your Thanksgiving dinner!

12:26 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Oh Clancy is such a handsome fellow, Kalen! Truly gorgeous and you can just see the good heart he has.

I have never owned a mastiff though I have known several in my 50 odd years. My big dogs have been either Rotties or Danes and a number of my Danes have been born deaf.

My parents owned an Akita for years and Shogun was a BIG mama's boy when it came to my mother. Heaven help anyone who even raised their voice to her when Shogun was in the room.

Dogs are members of the family in our clan too. My Mom has Christmas stockings for her Granddogs as well as her Grandkids!

5:31 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great about the Christmas stockings, Louisa! My dog gets a present wrapped in plain white tissue, no tape or ribbon, so she can open it herself. She goes right under the tree and finds it. I recently gave her a birthday present with similar wrapping that she had fun opening.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Shogun! Great name for an Akita. I've applied for several deaf dane puppies, but since I was a renter I kept losing out to home owners . . . now that I'm a home owner, maybe I'll get the next one that come into rescue.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Yes, the really good Dane rescue organizations are incredibly picky about who gets their dogs. As a home owner with a large piece of property and vet tech experience I was fortunate. The deaf Danes are such special creatures with such an other worldly quality to them. I have had four in my life and one fawn Dane with brain damage. My deaf Danes were some of the smartest dogs I have ever known and each one learned a wide variety of hand signals. They tend to stare at your face quite earnestly, which tends to intimidate some people. They are simply reading your face and they do it incredibly well. My first one, Gus (short for Caesar Augustus, thank you very much!) was a bit TOO smart. I came home one night after a movie to discover he had learned to open the fridge and had helped himself and the other dogs in the house to the contents! The house was a wreck and he pooped plastic wrap from Kraft cheese slices for weeks. I had to padlock the fridge after that!

8:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I found the rescue people a bit nutty and overzealous (hello, I had a pit bull for 16 years and spent close to 10K on her cancer treatments, they weren't going to FIND a more dedicated owner).

It all worked out though: I ended up with Clancy.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Yep, they can be real zealots and they really need to look at the PERSON as much as the living situation. A recommendation from your vet about the level of care you provide should count far more than whether you rent or own!

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Pansy Burke said...

Pansy may have been a "character" in Andrew Vachss' books, Leslie, but she was as real as you. Vachss doesn't write fiction in the traditional sense--he writes what he knows, and everyone in the books is based on real people. If you want a good look at Pansy, go to


5:10 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Ok, I LOVE that we got a visitation from "Pansy"!!!

2:00 PM  

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