Not only have dogs bluffed their way into our households, they’ve also successfully pawed their way into our entertainment schedules.
You can’t fail to admire the canine cunning that persuaded mankind to call a popular 30-year-long British television show containing more sheep than the human population of New Zealand, One Man and his Dog. And, just like the real world, our fictional characters have needed a faithful companion at their side.
Where would Dr Who have been without his K9? Would Wallace have ever made it to our screens without Gromit? How many people would still be languishing at the bottom of mine shafts without Lassie? And what about all the schoolchildren around the world who might have grown up not knowing that every Shaggy needs a Scooby Doo?
The knowledgeable bluffer will recall that John Gray was originally a gardener when he arrived in nineteenth century Edinburgh, but finding that gardening work during an Edinburgh winter was hard to come by he found himself obliged to look for alternative employment. So ‘Auld Jock’, as he became known, sought work in the local police force instead.
Paid 13 shillings a week, Auld Jock’s beat included the Grassmarket and Greyfriars Kirk areas of Edinburgh, a notorious haunt for criminals at the time. Policemen, or bobbies, were required to have a watchdog, and Auld Jock chose a six-month-old Skye terrier. Then came the duty of naming him and, because he was a police dog, Auld Jock settled on the name Bobby, which might not have been terribly original at the time, but came to be synonymous with one of the most famous dogs in history.
Together, Auld Jock and Bobby made a successful team, policing their Edinburgh district for over five years. But in October 1857, Jock developed tuberculosis. As winter progressed, the auld boy deteriorated, and on 8 February 1858 he died at home with Bobby at his feet. Auld Jock was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard and, despite dogs not being allowed in the graveyard, Bobby was in attendance.
The following day the graveyard’s keeper, James Brown, found Bobby lying atop Auld Jock’s grave. He chased the dog away, but the next morning, he found him lying on the grave again. Brown chased him away once more, but the loyal and determined terrier was back on his master’s grave 24 hours later. Eventually Brown took pity on Bobby and allowed him to stay, feeding him from time to time.
The graveyard became Bobby’s new home, and whatever the weather, he would lie on Auld Jock’s grave, something he continued to do until his own death, 14 years later on 14 January 1872. This act of loyalty and devotion has gone down in history, and is now commemorated in Edinburgh with a plaque on Greyfriars Place, a statue (with fountain), and even a pub called Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar in Candlemaker Row.
Anybody who aspires to bluff on the subject of dogs and canine behaviour will sniff out a few inconsistencies in this bit of old hokum. Cemetery dogs, as they were known, were popular in the late nineteenth century when, in France particularly, people travelled vast distances to feed the dogs they believed were being loyal to their dead masters. Cemetery keepers sometimes brought in dogs to attract such tourists, and if one were to die they would quickly find a replacement. This probably explains why there are differences in the many contemporary purported images of Greyfriars Bobby.
Should you find yourself outside the entrance to Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, remember to pat Bobby’s statue, and congratulate him on a good job well done, for he was truly a remarkable dog in many ways. After all, when you know the average life expectancy of a Skye terrier is 12 years, it doesn’t take long to do the maths.
If Bobby was six months old when Auld Jock acquired him, and then worked as a watchdog for five years, before lying on Auld Jock’s grave for a further 14 years, he defied most of the rules regarding his breed’s longevity.
When Llywelyn the Great (of Wales) married Joan, daughter of King John of England, one of the King’s gifts to the happy couple was a dog called Gelert. Descriptions suggest that Gelert may have been an Irish wolfhound, which is certainly plausible, for these dogs were known for their gentle temperament with children. But they were also capable of seeing off a wolf in a fair fight, and in those days there were quite a lot of wolves around.
One day, when Llewellyn returned from a hunt, Gelert came bounding up to him, his tail wagging, but with blood all around his muzzle. Dashing into his shelter, Llewellyn found his son’s crib upturned and the baby nowhere to be seen. Convinced Gelert had killed his son, Llewellyn drew his sword and plunged it into Gelert’s body. At the same moment Llewellyn heard a baby cry and on searching the shelter found his son, safe and well, with the body of a dead wolf nearby. Realising that Gelert had killed the wolf that had threatened his son, he was filled with remorse and buried Gelert in a grand ceremony. Today, people still flock to see Gelert’s grave, in the small Welsh village of Beddgelert.
The sceptical bluffer might sniff the tell-tale signs of yet another load of old hokey, especially when they learn that Gelert’s memorial was erected circa 1802 by one David Pritchard, proprietor of the nearby Beddgelert Hotel.
Recognising a marketing opportunity when he saw one, Pritchard revived and partly reinvented the story of Gelert and created the grave in an attempt to encourage tourism.
His entrepreneurial bent clearly extends beyond his own grave. These days he is reputed to haunt the hotel (now known as the Royal Goat Hotel).
Laika is possibly one of the world’s most famous stray dogs, for had she not been roaming the streets of 1950s Moscow, she would not have been picked up and trained to become the first living creature to orbit the earth. The hapless hound was catapulted into the stratosphere some 1,600 km above the earth, in a cone-shaped vessel which completed one orbit of the earth every one hour and 42 minutes, giving her an average speed of 18,000 miles per hour. She entered orbit on 3 November 1957, causing uproar when it was revealed that there were no plans to bring her back down to earth again. Clearly, the Russians had failed to gauge public opinion. The majority of people weren’t too fussy about fellow humans dying in space, but harming dumb animals was a step too far.
Sputnik 2 orbited the Earth 2,570 times before falling back to Earth on 14 April 1958, burning up on re-entry, by which time Laika was already well and truly dead.
While she was the first, she was not the only dog to enter space. Between 1957 and 1966, the USSR sent 13 dogs into orbit. One dog, Strelka, orbited the Earth 18 times (along with a handful of mice, a couple of rats, and some plants) in August 1960 and became the first living creature to return to Earth safely. She later went on to give birth to a healthy litter of puppies, one of whom was called Fluffy and given to President John F Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, as a gift by USSR President Nikita Krushchev.
Fluffy went on to mate with one of the Kennedy’s other dogs, producing a healthy litter of four puppies, which JFK jokingly referred to as ‘pupniks’. Dog bluffers really need to know this sort of thing.
Pal became the most famous screen dog in history when he won the coveted role of Lassie. Although he had earlier auditioned for the role, the job was given to a female prize-winning collie, and Pal was taken on as a stunt dog. During a particularly difficult stunt, Pal’s performance was so good the film company shot the footage in one take, and decided to award him the main part. The film was a huge success leading to many more films and television spin-offs.
When Pal retired, the role of Lassie was filled by his direct descendants (of which there were many). There can’t be that many film stars who’ve been able to secure work for the next 10 generations. (Bluffing note: while Lassie was female, Pal and his descendants who played her were exclusively male.)
Despite being an Old English sheepdog, the paint company Dulux first used this iconic symbol of Englishness in a black-and-white TV Australian advertising campaign in the 1960s. The first Dulux dog was Shepton Dash, who retained the role for eight years before handing the baton on to Fernville Lord Digby, who became such a star that he was collected by a chauffeur and driven to the studios.
Digby was trained by the abrasive TV personality Barbara Woodhouse, and even starred in his own film, Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World with Jim Dale and Spike Milligan in 1973. Apart from Shepton Dash, all of Dulux’s dogs have been breed champions.
Equality arrived in the 1990s when the first female Dulux dog appeared on screen. On set, dogs were called by their pet names, rather than their official Kennel Club names. In order of appearance, these were Dash, Digby, Duke, Tanya, Pickle, and Spud. You never know when this information might come in useful.
For more shaggy dog stories, read The Bluffer’s Guide to Dogs®