Alexander Pope had a Great Dane named Bounce, Teddy Roosevelt was said to be inseparable from his mongrel Skip, and Wagner was reputedly kept company in Paris by a Newfoundland called Robber. In more recent times, Boris and Carrie have Dilyn, the Covid-proof Jack Russell Terrier, the Queen has Corgis, and even Meghan keeps a Beagle called Guy and a Labrador retriever named ‘Pula’ – the currency of Botswana where she purportedly fell in love with the prince.
It has long been asserted that your breed of dog says a great deal about you, that dogs form part of our unconscious truth-telling to the wider world, a symbol writ large of the statements we dare not say out loud. And yet, the symbol and the statement are not always caught in a dance of mutual projection. Sometimes, the choice of breed can function correctively. Status anxiety? Get a thoroughbred. Small ego? Get a large dog to (over) compensate.
Other iterations of the dog-as-mirror phenomenon include getting a dog to match your own features, the fabled similarity between a dog and its owner. Petite? A Chihuahua, surely. Tall and thin? A whippet for you. But this doesn’t always hold either; narcissism can only take us so far in our investigations into why people choose the breed they do.
Perhaps, in these bizarre times, the clues lie in the state of the world rather than within us. After centuries of a shameless, if flawed, mirroring of the dog/human relationship, maybe we select our breed of dog now based on a vision of the world we long for rather than one we experience as reflected back to us. Dogs as wish-fulfillment, if you will.
No sooner had we been locked-up than the nation went puppy-mad with enquiries on the Kennel Club’s website increasing by 140 per cent. According to Crufts, 2020 has seen hugely increased demand for dogs in general with Native English breeds such as the Corgi and the Jack Russell coming top of the list. Although the Labrador is still the nation’s most popular dog, demand for mixed-breed Labradoodles and Cavapoos has soared.
In Kafka’s short story, Investigations of a Dog, the canine narrator explains his “indispensable” investigations into the nature of the world: “One begins to seek causes, to stammer together a kind of etiology—yes, one begins, and of course will never get beyond the beginning. But it’s something—a beginning.” Like Kafka’s questing canine, we are all looking for some snippet that might explain the greater whole. Of course, we won’t get far, but what better place to start than with a dog? This being so, some observations:
The Labrador has long been a symbol of middle-class aspiration and country life, of Agas, wellies, and guns. To acquire a Labrador in the Covid-era could well speak to a profound nostalgia for the world as it once was, a desire to reduce daily to one simple equation: food and walks – which, as luck has it, was where lockdown largely led us back in March. You may be a Brexiteer, or you may simply be departing urban life permanently now you can work from home – either way, the labrador is the embodiment of all your bucolic dreams.
If this diminutive dog is good enough for the Queen, it’s more than good enough for you. The addition of a Corgi to your household may be a show of support for our monarch in these pestilent days, or a sign that you have watched every season of The Crown in lockdown. Unconsciously, we British like to take our lead from the royals. Queen Alexandra sparked a trend for chokers when she pioneered a fitted necklace to hide a scar on her neck and Princess Margaret got us all wearing cat-eye sunglasses in the sixties. The Queen was given her first corgi, called Susan, when she was eighteen and such was her attachment to it that the dog accompanied her and Prince Philip on honeymoon. Alas, the monarch’s passion for the breed has always remained fairly idiosyncratic, with few of us following suit until now.
They do have a reputation for snapping at the ankles. The Queen herself purportedly had to have stitches after being bitten in 1991. Perhaps in an era where we, like the Queen, are having to show unparalleled levels of restraint, these short-legged canines might be a way of letting out our pent up angst. And, besides, if anyone can spearhead a new trend its Olivia Coleman.
Like their Cavapoo friends across the aisle, Labradoodles signal harmony, diplomacy – a glorious coming together of two different breeds. Billed as ‘hypoallergenic’, this is truly a dog breed for the modern era. Is it any wonder these non-malting canines are so popular when we’re spending more time locked inside our houses? In addition to being house proud, prospective Labradoodlers are also optimists, projecting onto their pets a longed-for vision of increased social mixing after the second wave has passed.
The diminutive Jack Russell is not to be underestimated. Having experienced a “Boris Bounce” ever since Dilyn set his paws on the sofa at Number 10, Jack Russells are politicised in the way the British Bulldog used to be. Beloved across the classes, they’re also brilliantly status-free. You don’t have to be a fan of the government to want a Jack Russell, but if there’s anything that will help you acclimatise to abrupt u-turns performed at break neck speed with little or no apology, it’s owning one of these.