Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wool Dogs

"A Woman Weaving a Blanket" Songhees/Saanich (Central Coast Salish), by Paul Kane 1846-1859 from the Royal Ontario Museum
Some Northwest Coast Native Americans who lived in the area around Puget Sound had two types of dogs when Europeans arrived - village dogs and wool dogs. From what I understand, village dogs were just basically regular pets. Wool dogs on the other hand were bred for their hair which was made into all sorts of woven goods.

Wool dogs were carefully kept in pens away from the village dogs so they would not interbreed. Once trade with Europeans/Euro-Americans became widespread in the 19th century, people had access to all sorts of other materials for making textiles and use of dog wool declined. Combined with the depopulation due to introduced diseases, most villages stopped keeping their wool dogs separate from other dogs. The wool dog was basically bred out and/or extinct by about 1850.

I've always thought this sort of dog husbandry was very cool, but didn't know a whole lot about it. This quarter I'm teaching a class on the archaeology of the Northwest Coast and some of the readings have mentioned wool dogs. My students were fascinated by them and dug up all sorts of information about them on the internet.

There are no photos of wool dogs, but the painting above gives us a pretty good idea of what they looked like. I have to say, they're pretty adorable. Check out this link for a larger image of the painting above.

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