Past & Present: Dog Collars, Beds & Houses + Roundup

Illustration by Julia Rothman

I am utterly devoted to my cats (cats have that power over you). But unbeknownst to them, I harbor secret dog fantasies, which involve me driving a beat-up pickup truck with a buddy dog wearing a blue bandana at my side. Yes, we cat people can be dog people, too. The ancient Egyptians are well known for their cat obsession, but they also had an affectionate relationship with canines. Cleopatra was said to have given miniature greyhounds to Caesar. Some of the more touching historic examples of the bond between human and dog come from members of European royalty. Fear of disease and distrust meant that royal children lived relatively solitary lives. Often their only friends would have been those of the four-legged variety. When the middle classes grew throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, ways to pamper pets increased. In honor of pet families, this Past & Present is going to the dogs. — Amy Azzarito

Tonight is the book launch party for Past & Present at West Elm on Broadway and 62nd. If you’re in New York, Grace, Max and I would love to meet you! There will drinks and Smilebooth, and the projects from the book will be on display. RSVP here.

Dog Collars

The first accessory ever put on a dog was most certainly a collar. After all, then as now, the collar was essential for training, identified ownership and also reflected social standing. Archaeologists recently unearthed King Cuo of Zhongshan (pre-dynastic, 323–309 BC China), who had been buried with his dog. His apparently much-beloved dog was still wearing his collar of gold, silver and turquoise. Roman dogs belonging to high-ranking members of society wore collars of beautifully wrought silver. Medieval hunting dogs wore more utilitarian collars with protective spikes. And Renaissance tapestries frequently depict dogs wearing elaborately jeweled collars. Louis XI of France (1423–1483) may have been a cheapskate, but he loosened the purse strings when it came to his favorite greyhound. The dog wore a collar made of scarlet velvet decorated with 20 pearls and 11 rubies. These royal collars weren’t just status symbols; they were propaganda. Anne of Brittany, the wife of Louis XI’s son, Charles VIII, had 24 pet dogs, and each wore a black velvet collar from which were suspended four ermine paws of pure white — a reference to the Brittany arms in which an ermine is depicted.

Image above: 1. French 19th-century silver plated collar, $650 | 2. French brass and leather collar with bulldog heads, sold for $780 inc. premium | 3. A gold collar consisting of three tapering bars, fused at the ends. A catch-plate, loosely attached by hooks at the end, which pass through perforations, allows the collar to be taken on and off the neck. The front segments of the bars carry incised geometric ornaments divided into panels and fringed with a dog’s tooth design. From the British Museum. | 4. Victorian engraved silvered metal and leather collar, sold for $3,000 | 5. & 6. Victorian dog collar, sold as a set of 3 for $1159

More past dog history and present dog goodies after the jump . . .

Image above: American 20th-century leather and gilt metal collar, sold at auction for $540 via Bonhams 1973

In the 18th century, the fashion changed from velvet collars to collars made of silver or even gold. Dog collars for royalty were made out of increasingly more precious materials — the height of ridiculousness was 18th-century France, where Marie Antoinette’s dogs wore collars studded with diamonds. After the French Revolution, aristocracy throughout Europe learned the value of being a little more understated. Empress Josephine’s pugs wore simple collars adorned with bells. And in England, Queen Victoria’s lapdogs wore simple velvet collars. In colonial America, every respectable dog would have worn a collar, but like their European historical counterparts, those who had the means used the dog collar as a way to advertise wealth and status. Collars made of brass would have been imported from England and were sometimes inscribed with the owner’s name. (Sadly, the collars often lasted longer than the dogs, so a single collar would have been used over the lives of several dogs.)

Image above: 1. Dog collar made of leather, silver and iron. From The British Museum | 2. Victorian dog collar, sold as a set of 3 for $1159 | 3. Engraved silvered metal and leather collar, British, 19th century. Sold for US $7,930 | 4. Early 17th-century collar for hunting dog. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image above: Dog kennel by Jean Baptiste-Claude Sené made for Marie Antoinette, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dog Beds

At Versailles in the late 18th century, dogs were everywhere. Poodles at court were trained to hold up their owners’ trains so that their fashionable ladies wouldn’t trip on their dresses. When it came time to sleep, only hunting dogs were kenneled outside, and even then, favorites were allowed to roam free. Most dogs slept with their masters or occasionally on a cushion specially made for them. Louis XI of France (who had the fancy collar for his greyhound mentioned above) not only had a bed for little Mistodin, his greyhound, but also had special nightclothes made for the dog to prevent him from catching a cold. Empress Josephine’s pugs slept near her on cashmere shawls or on valuable carpets. Unsurprisingly, so many dogs in bedrooms didn’t create the best-smelling environment, so it was common for rose petals to be strewn about the bed in an attempt to mask the smell.

Image above: Daguerreotype portrait of a dog by Louis-Auguste Bisson, 1841–1849, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dog Houses

Egyptian nobility kept their dogs in mud-bricked kennels. The dogs were cared for by professional trainers. Dogs were also an accepted part of Chinese, Greek and Roman societies. Small dogs were popular companions, living most of their lives indoors. (Of course, sadly, then as now, for every pampered dog, there were many homeless ones.) Hunting grew in popularity as a sport for nobility during the Middle Ages, and noblemen often maintained extremely large dog kennels. However, as mentioned above, only the hunting dogs were kept outside. During the 1800s, when dog breeding increased in popularity, the classic pitched-roof dog house also came into vogue. In the U.S. prior to World War II, most dog houses would have been made with scraps of leftover materials. Following the war, factory-made dog houses became more common.

Books to Read

Four Centuries of Dog Collars at Leeds Castle — Leeds Castle has a special “dog collar museum.” This book depicts a collection of 63 collars presented to the museum by Gertrude Hunt in memory of her husband, John Hunt.

Pets in America: A History — From White House gerbils to Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s many cats, this book presents a history of the American obsession with pets.

Reigning Cats and Dogs: A History of Pets at Court Since the Renaissance This is a charming book filled with anecdotal stories of noble cats and dogs throughout history.

The only downside to being a cat owner is that there just aren’t the same fashion options. I lost myself in the world of dog collars, dog beds and dog houses. (Someone, please send me a photo of your dog in that bow tie!)

Image above: 1. Autumn Mini Plaid Dog Bow Tie Collar, $43 | 2. Hemp Dog Collar — Wag Like an Egyptian, $18 | 3. War Dog Leather Dog Collar, $69 | 4. Nice Grill Cream & Black Collar, $24 | 5. Out of My Box Black and Vermillion Leash, $30 | 6. Navy Watch Wax Collar, $48

Image above: Urbanest Pet Bed, $190

Image above: 1. Flagged Collar, $14–$20 | 2. Chalkboard Treat Jars, $28 | 3. Can You Read This Dog Tag, $12 | 4. Pebble Leather Collar Cobalt, $70 | 5. Dog Biscuits, $9.50 | 6. Jasper Dog Bandana, $25 | 7. Ryley’s Rhinestone Lead, $45 | 8. Navigator Dog Collar, $25.95

Image above: New Age Pet All-weather Insulated Dog House, $276.79

Image above: Pet Beds, $120

  1. Christine says:

    You are right, there are a lot more cute accessories for dogs than for cats, but I did find this cute polka dot bow tie for my cat.

  2. Ceraintly we cat people can be dog people, too. I have two dogs and two cats.
    Sadly that means there is hardly any room for myself and my boyfreind on out double bed, :-)).
    What a lovely round-up of beautiful presents for dogs! Although I think it would be my cat, Thomasina who would steal the Marie Antoinette dog bed, if I would ever have one.

  3. Hande says:

    Enjoyed reading this quite a bit. I am obsessing over those See Scout Sleep beds, I think Buddy may need one very soon. Thanks so much!

  4. Jay says:

    A couple more great indie collar-makers: and

  5. Laura says:

    I have a corgi and, at 50 lbs, he’s really a two-lap dog. But I love him dearly. And I change his collars and leads regularly. For example, if hubby, dog, and I are riding in our Mustang, the dog wears a Ford collar and lead. If he’s going to the hardware store with us, he wears a lumberjack plaid collar with a basic chrome and black lead. Yes, I’m obsessed. And I’m so-o-o-o-o-o glad I’m not the only one obsessed about my dog!

  6. I love these accessories…so much that immediately after reading this piece I started trolling the internet again for a rescue. Once I find “the one” he or she will for sure be napping on the Love Thy Beast Urbanest bed…love. It’s so nice to see a pet bed with personality rather than being an eyesore.

  7. AGH, I LOVE the Nice Grill Cream & Black collar!! Definitely going to look at buying that for my little Boston Terrier!

  8. I’m loving this month’s theme, and your round ups. We are big fans of Silly Buddy bow ties, and we like to use them when we’re walking around Chicago with our foster dogs. It’s amazing how many people will approach a dog in bow tie (which also helps find adoptive families!). We have some older photos, here:

  9. hadley says:

    Fascinating history bits about those collars!

  10. Frances says:

    Yea Amy! Such a great post. I love the mix of historical and modern. The illustrations are perfect. My dog is a sweet angel so we love to spoil her. Super cool dog inspiration.

  11. Liv Grant says:

    I’m the first to say my dog Grace is like a furry child! And I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who loves my dog that much. For those of you who are looking around for an ultra comfy bed for your pup, check out House of Snooze dog beds on Etsy. There customizable with lots of fabric options and even have a fleece-lined pocket for them to crawl into!:

  12. Trig says:

    Cool, I really like the historic collars. They’d be neat display items, if the price wasn’t so dear!
    In my family, our dogs have always just had one fairly ordinary collar. But I still have the collar my first dog wore, and she died ten years ago. It’s a nice memento.

    There are definitely fancy cat beds, and I imagine there’s a whole world of silly cat collars out there, but cats are less tolerant of such things. My cat took to hers pretty well, but I don’t know if she’d appreciate a bulkier studded or bow-tied thing as much.
    Plus cat collars are designed so that cats can easily break free of them if they get stuck (in a tree, on a fence, wherever cats go). I would hate to spend a bunch on a luxurious collar only to lose it next time kitty made a break for the outside world and decided to explore the construction yard (or under the neighbour’s deck, or up the fire escape, etc).

  13. Anne says:

    Very interesting! Thank you! ))
    and I have such feature-dog:

  14. Anne says:

    I like to decorate my dog ​​different collar and dog-tags. That make she special. I carefully store her first collar.
    I have a red bull terrier Juju :):)

  15. Ashley Walsh says:

    Thanks for a great article, for really cool doggy accesories I love the online store Puptart, they have a great range of funky collars!


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.