I don’t know about you, but sometimes when life gets a bit much I need some puppy love to keep me happy and entertained. It’s scientifically proven! Dogs lower your stress levels – when you interact with dogs your body produces more oxytocin (the good stuff) and less cortisol (the bad stuff). Unfortunately, I don’t have any dogs of my own. I do on occasions go to my in-laws to pet their gorgeous King Charles spaniels, but day-to-day I have to make do with pictures on the internet, so here is a dog-themed Sherlock Holmes post. I feel it meets a real need.
There have been a number of academic works recently on the link between Holmes and dogs that have raised some really interesting questions about how the late-Victorians linked together dogs and detecting. Emma Mason, for example, sees a dog-like quality in Holmes in the way that he interacts with people and in his love of routine. She says:
References to [Holmes’s] dog-like character abound in Conan Doyle’s stories: Holmes is described as a ‘pure-blooded, well-trained foxhound’ [STUD]; a ‘sleuth-hound’ [REDH]; and, depending on his mood, ‘a foxhound with hanging ears and drooping tail as it lolls about the kennels’ or a dog ‘with gleaming eyes and straining muscles’ [BRUC]. In ‘The Priory School’, Holmes himself even hopes that ‘two old hounds like Watson and myself’ might ‘sniff’ out the scent of the crime together… References to dogs also tend to set the mood of a particular scene, evoking a sense of eeriness through their absence [STUD], spookiness through their howls [COPP; HOUN], or as a term of abuse in various tales: ‘You dog!’; ‘that hellhound’; ‘Take that, you hound, and that!’ [STUD; SOLI; CHAS](‘Dogs, Detectives, and the famous Sherlock Holmes’, 2008)
The figure of the canine as a police assistant, the image of the human detective as an anthropomorphized sleuthhound, and even phrases like ‘on a scent’ and ‘to dog someone’ had their origins in Victorian culture. The police did consult withbloodhound handlers, but joint ventures were, in reality, few and far between. […] In his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Conan Doyle frequently explored the possibilities of canine olfactory detection and also presented the human detective as either the embodiment of a sleuthhound or as a detective with a special affinity with dogs. He tied his detective to dogs in order to demonstrate the ‘otherness’ of Holmes’s extraordinary forensic powers, and his eccentric personality.(‘Hounding Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle, Bloodhounds and Sleuthing in the Late-Victorian Imagination’, 2013)
Public unease with bloodhound pursuit stemmed directly from the belief that dogs inhabited a different sensorial world from humans, a scent-orientated one. Transgressing nature and culture, bloodhounds physically and figuratively were seen to blur the lines between cleanliness and filth, rationality and instinct, civilization and savagery, rurality and urbanity. Thus, while for some the bloodhound embodied nobility, fine breeding and justice, for others the dog was a dangerous and savage animal, tolerated only for the purpose of the eradication of yet worse horrors.(‘Bloodhounds as Detectives’, 2012)
There are a number of dogs Holmes uses to sniff out the case. The first is Toby in The Sign of Four who was ‘an ugly, long-haired, lop-eared creature, half spaniel and half lurcher, brown-and white in colour, with a very clumsy waddling gait’. There is also Pompey in ‘The Adventure of the Three Quarter’ who is something between a beagle and a foxhound.
In some of the stories dogs are used to protect the household and the owners inside. In ‘Silver Blaze’ Holmes realises the perpetrator must have been known to the household because the dog did nothing to prevent it.
In two other cases, the dog attacks its owner in defense: Carlo the mastiff in ‘The Copper Beeches’prowls the grounds at night to protect the home but in the end attacks Mr Rucastle. In ‘The Creeping Man’ the newfoundland is taunted by its transformed owner and attacks the professor.
There is a great scene in The Hound of the Baskervilles where Holmes and Watson compete to deduce a walking-stick left behind by their prospective client. Watson does not do very well, but Holmes works out that the owner of the stick must also have a terrier:
‘Being a heavy stick the dog has held it tightly by the middle, and the marks of his teeth are very plainly visible. The dog’s jaw, as shown in the space between these marks, is too broad in my opinion for a terrier and not broad enough for a mastiff. It may have been—yes, by Jove, it is a curly-haired spaniel.”
He had risen and paced the room as he spoke. Now he halted in the recess of the window. There was such a ring of conviction in his voice that I glanced up in surprise.
“My dear fellow, how can you possibly be so sure of that?”
“For the very simple reason that I see the dog himself on our very door-step, and there is the ring of its owner.’
In ‘The Lion’s Mane’ a poor Airedale Terrier dies by the rock pool where his owner had died. It is presumed to have been through grief for his master, but Holmes knows better!
Holmes uses dogs occasionally for experimenting. The spaniel in ‘Shoscombe Old Place’ is upset to discover that the woman claiming to be Lady Beatrice is not his owner and thus proves a plot is afoot.
In Study in Scarlet Holmes euthanizes a very sick terrier in the name of science. He feeds the dog the pills Jefferson Hope uses on his victims to prove the method of murder.
Another experiment is performed on little Carlo, a spaniel, by Jack Ferguson in ‘The Sussex Vampire’. The dog is assumed to have spinal meningitis and is unable to walk. Holmes deduces that the young boy had experimented on the dog to test the poison darts he intends to use to kill his baby brother.
Lastly, the most famous dog in the whole of the Sherlock Holmes canon: the Hound of the Baskervilles.
‘an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame.’
The poor, mistreated dog is kept on the Devonshire Moors by the evil Stapleton and is painted in phosphorous to give it a demonic look. It scares Charles Baskerville to death, chases the murderer Selden to his fatal fall, and almost kills Henry Baskerville before Holmes stops him. It is a murder weapon and like his owner, meets a mortal end.