2010-04-07 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The dog is probably the most varied mammal on the planet. With about 300 breeds recognized worldwide, the origin of the name of each breed may not be as evolutionary or revolutionary as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, but nevertheless each etymology is intriguing. While many types of dogs are named after the country, region or tribe that first developed them, other breed names are linked to canine characteristics.

Etymology is the study of word origins. Breeds tend to be named after places, familiar sites like Boston Terriers born and bred in Bean Town, or obscure ones such as Salukis named for an ancient town in Arabia; after people such as Louis Doberman (and his beloved Pinscher) or the Duke of Gordon (and his royal Setter); after specific jobs including Pointers or Shepherds (as in “herd the sheep”); or after talents/ descriptions such as “Borzoi” being Russian for “swift” and “Shihtzu” being Mandarin for “lion”. “Schnauzer” translates as “schnauz” or “snout” in German, and the French “barbichon frise” morphs into “Bichon Frise” or “curly lap dog”.

Starting with the basics, both “dog” and “hound” derive from Old English. “Dog” comes from “docga” meaning “powerful breed of canine” whereas “hound” is from “hund” which was narrowed in the 12th C. to refer to a “dog used for hunting.” (Specifically “Basset” is “low” in Old French and “Dasch” is “badger” in German, thus, explaining the names of these two stubby-legged hounds);

“Terrier” comes from the Latin “terra” meaning “earth” because these scrappy pups pursue their prey (rats, rabbits) in their burrows. “Spaniel” is a 13th C. word that denotes a dog that came from Spain. “Poodles” are not French. Actually their name is from the German “pudel” meaning “to splash” because Poodles were water dogs. The elaborate coifs helped their aquatics. Meanwhile “Vizsla” has a double translation, as ‘to seek” in Turkish and “to point” in Hungarian, and “Schipperke” means “little boatman” (think-“skipper”) in Dutch because these compact canines were watchdogs on barges.

Most of the Arctic sled dogs (Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds) are named for the Inuit or Siberian people who first bred them. Some breeds read like an obscure geography lesson. Dalmatians hail from a region in Croatia; Lhasa Apsos from the capital of Tibet. The ancient Roman army marched with their unique Mastiffs through a German town called Rottweil. Sound familiar? Airedales were developed near the Aire River in Yorkshire, England.

Yet other breeds besides French Poodles are map misnomers. Great Danes originated either in Britain or Germany depending on which expert you believe. The gentle giants got their mistaken name in the 1700s from a French naturalist who noticed these majestic dogs while he was traveling in Denmark. Labrador Retrievers are really from Newfoundland. Labrador is nearby. Although Pharaoh Hounds look like they stepped off the walls of the pyramids, recent DNA mapping says they are not an ancient Egyptian breed, but they are documented more recently as the national dog of Malta.

Certain breeds like Collies, Pugs, and Chows have several explanations for their names. The word “Collie” either stems from the Anglo Saxon word for “black like coal” or the Gaelic “cuilean” for “puppy”. In the 1700s Pugs may have been named for their resemblance to Pug monkeys, popular as pets then, or for the Latin word “pugnus” meaning “fist” because the Pug’s profile looked like a clenched fist. Another idea is that “Pug” is a misspelling of the mischievous fairy “Puck” in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chows also have two possible backgrounds. For their sake, let’s hope the second one is true. “Chow” might be Chinese slang for “edible”. The other thought is that in the 1800s clipper ships would travel to the Far East. Theodds and ends cargo was referred to as “Chow Chow”.

Beagles too have multiple theories about the root of their name. Snoopy’s ancestors may be described by the French term “be’geule” which means “gape throat” because of their baying voice or possibly by the Celtic word “beag” meaning “small”. Whichever is correct, isn’t it only fitting that during his Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin, a dog lover, recorded his groundbreaking observations about the whole natural world? Sons of Snoopy everywhere are baying with pride about their famous namesake ship.

For Adoption at Town of Oyster Bay Shelter (677- 5784) Miller Pl. Syosset: “Sasha” #067 is a special gal. This blue Great Dane mix about 9 years old came into the shelter with heartworm so the Town got her treated at their vet. Sasha is an absolutely sweet senior, but very thin. If she is lucky enough to find a home now, hopefully her spay can be postponed until she is recovered and stronger. Meanwhile “Neytiri” #146 is also a slim girl. She resembles a brindle Greyhound/ Whippet mix.

Male: “Romeo” #603 handsome Cane Corso mix with light green eyes; “Simba” #685-Pit mix; “Nilly” #092- buff kitten in the lobby. He touches your cheek with his paw.

Female: “Grace” #089-9 year old Westie. Her owner died; Mama tabby #087.

•Lecture Sponsored by Amaryllis Farm Equine Rescue: Topic-“Pet Evacuation in a Disaster or Emergency” Speakers-Beverly Poppell of The Pet Safe Coalition and Harvey Silverman of Nassau/Suffolk Horsemen’s Assoc. on Thurs. April 15 from 7-9 pm at Cold Spring Harbor Library 95 Harbor Road-631- 692-6820.

Return to top