Wednesday, 23 April 2008

St George's Day: Best of British dog breeds

The papers and blogs are heaving with the news that more people than ever are beginning to celebrate St. George's Day. The patron saint of England has long been overlooked thanks to the louder and more famous festivals of nearby patron saints like Ireland's St. Patrick, but campaigners are keen to raise awareness of the Turkish-born dragon slayer.

It seems as good a time as any, then, to speak up for some well known and much-loved British dog breeds.

The most iconic of these has got to be the English Bulldog. Descended from Mastiff breeds, this dog has become distinctly more docile and friendly as it goes further and further from its fighting dog ancestry. They still retain a fiery personality, but now make excellent pets and companions, displaying courage, tenacity and loyalty. As with all dogs, taking on a Bulldog requires some research and planning; rehoming or buying a puppy should not be a spur of the moment decision. Bulldogs are particularly well suited to people who spend much of the day at home and are more comfortable with short bursts of regular exercise than sustained activity.

Thanks to many famous incarnations, the Old English Sheepdog is also a familiar symbol of Britishness. Originally bred in the South West of England as a working dog, herding instincts are still very strong in this shaggy-looking, intelligent breed. While giving the impression of being dopey and docile, they are actually smart, funny and sociable with children, other dogs, pets and visitors. In contrast to the Bulldog, the OES needs lots of exercise as well as mental stimulation and loves to play. Although generally excellent with children, it is never advisable to leave a child alone with any animal, and children should be taught to respect their pet.

Somewhere in-between in terms of both size and temperament is the English Cocker Spaniel. The origin of the Spaniel family might once have been Spain, but the breeds could have first come to England as early as 55BC! Cocker Spaniels emerged as a separately defined breed in the late 1800s, bred to go after woodcock. They are faithful, friendly and playful dogs, generally of a quiet disposition and quite open to training, making excellent family pets.

Of course there are many more English breeds and crossbreeds that have their own distinct personalities, and every dog should be treated as an individual and cared for accordingly. But on this very English day it seemed appropriate to give a nod to these very English breeds.

[Image via Wikimedia]

Do you have a particular favourite? Let us know in the comments.
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