In the 1750s, the Learned English Dog was a sensation in London: this spelling and calculating border collie was even thought to be a reincarnation of Pythagoras. The acting Newfoundland dog Carlo, active in London from 1803 until 1811, had plays specially written for him, involving tackling villains, liberating prisoners, and diving into artificial lakes on stage to save drowning children. Don the Speaking Dog toured the world barking out words like 'Hungry! Give me cakes!' and had particular success in New York. Some of history's amazing dogs belonged to the canine proletariat: turnspit dogs ceaselessly running inside wheels to turn the roast meat, and terriers put into rat-pits, with bets laid on the number of rats killed. The champion terrier Billy killed 100 rats in five and a half minutes in 1823, a record which stood until 1863, when it was beaten by Jacko, another champion rat-killer. Another forgotten chapter in canine history involves the once-famous dogs collecting for charity in London's railway stations, with boxes attached to their backs.
Lord Byron's rowdy Newfoundland dog Boatswain belonged to the opposite end of the canine social spectrum, as did the super-rich dogs inheriting money from their wealthy and eccentric owners. The book suitably ends with a chapter on dog cemeteries and dog ghosts.
Jan Bondeson is a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at Cardiff University. His many critically acclaimed books include Animal Freaks, Freaks: The Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square & Other Medical Marvels, Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, The London Monster and the best-selling Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear. He lives in Newport in Wales.