Columella Treatsie on Dogs
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Columella Treatsie on Dogs

LUCIUS JUNIUS MODERATUS COLUMELLA
On Agriculture
In Treatsie 7: small animals: asses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs he covers some items that Molosser Fanciers and historians may find enlightening and still applicable today.  Some of the remedies described to treat ailements are also considered as homeopathic today. Read on to learn more.

I have now, unless I am mistaken, dealt in Dogs, sufficient detail with animals used for ploughing and other cattle and with the herdsmen who are employed to look after and watch over flocks of four-footed animals at home and out of doors with all the resources of human intelligence. Now, as I promised in the earlier part of my treatise, I will speak of the dumb guardians of the flocks, though it is wrong to speak of the dog as a dumb guardian; for what human being more clearly or so vociferously gives warning of the presence of a wild beast or of a thief as does the dog by its barking? What servant is more attached to his master than is a dog? What companion more faithful? What guardian more in- corruptible ? What more wakeful night-watchman can be found? Lastly, what more steadfast avenger or defender ? To buy and keep a dog ought, therefore, to be among the first things which a farmer does, because it is the guardian of the farm, its pro- duce, the household and the cattle.

There are three different reasons for procuring and keeping a dog. One type of dog is chosen to oppose the plots of human beings and watches over the farm and all its appurtenances; a second kind for repelling the attacks of men and wild beasts and keeping an eye at home on the stables and abroad on the flocks as they feed; the third kind is acquired for the purposes of the chase, and not only does not help the farmer but actually lures him away from his work and makes him lazy about it. We must, therefore, speak of the farm-yard dog and the sheep-dog; for the sporting hound has nothing to do with the art which we profess.

As guardian of the farm a dog should be chosen which is of ample bulk with a loud and sonorous bark in order that it may terrify the malefactor, first because he hears it and thenbecausehe sees it; indeed, sometimes without being even seen it puts to flight the crafty plotter merely by the terror which its growling inspires. It should be the same colour all over, white being the colour which should rather be chosen for a sheepdog and black for a farm-yard dog; for a dog of varied colouring is not to be recommended for either purpose. The shepherd prefers a white dog because it is unlike a wild beast, and sometimes a plain means of distinction is required in the dogs when one is driving off wolves in the obscurity of early morning or even at dusk, lest one strike a dog instead of a wild beast.

The farmyard dog, which is pitted against the wicked wiles of men, if the thief approaches in the clear light of day, has a more alarming appearance if it is black, whereas at night it is not even seen because it resembles the shadow and so, under the cover of darkness, the dog can approach the crafty thief in greater security. A squarely built dog is preferred to one which is long or short, and it should have a head so large as to appear to form the largest part of it; it should have ears which droop and hang down, eyes black or grey, sparkling with rays of bright light, a broad and shaggy chest, wide shoulders, thick, rough legs and a short tail; the joints of its feet and its claws, which the Greeks call drakes, should be very large. Such are the points which will meet with most approval in all farm-yard dogs.

In character they should neither be 5 very mild nor, on the other hand, savage and cruel; if they are mild, they fawn on everyone, including the thief; if they are fierce they attack even the people of the house. It is enough that they should be stern but not fawning, so that they sometimes look even upon their companions in servitude with a somewhat wrathful eye, while they always blaze with anger against strangers. Above all they should be seen to be vigilant in their watch and not given to wandering, but diligent and cautious rather than rash; for the cautious do not give the alarm unless they have discovered something for certain, whereas the rash are aroused by any vain noise and groundless suspicion.

I have thought it necessary to mention these points, because it is not nature alone but educa- tion as well which forms character, so that, when there is an opportunity of buying a dog, we may choose one with these qualities and that when we are going to train dogs which have been born at home, we may bring them up on such principles as these. It does 7 not matter much if farm-yard dogs are heavily built and lack speed, since they have to function rather at close quarters and where they are posted than at a distance and over a wide area; for they should always remain round the enclosures and within the buildings, indeed they ought never go out farther from home and can perfectly well carry out their duties by cleverly scenting out anyone who approaches and frightening him by barking and not allowing him to come any nearer, or, if he insists on approaching, they violently attack him. Their first duty is not to allow themselves to be attacked, their second duty to defend themselves with courage and pertinacity if they are provoked. So much for the dogs which guard the house; our next subject is sheep-dogs.

A dog which is to guard cattle ought not to be as 8 lean and swift of foot as one which pursues deer and stags and the swiftest animals, nor so fat and heavily built as the dog which guards the farm and granary, but he must, nevertheless, be strong and to a certain extent prompt to act and vigorous, since the purpose 9 for which he is acquired is to pick quarrels and to fight and also to move quickly, since he has to repel the stealthy lurking of the wolf and to follow the wild beast as he escapes with his prey and make him drop it and to bring it back again. Therefore a dog of a rather long, slim build is better able to deal with these emergencies than one which is short or even squarely built, since, as I have said, sometimes the necessity of pursuing a wild beast with speed demands this. The other joints in sheep-dogs if they resemble the limbs of farm-yard dogs meet with equal approval.

Practically the same food should be given to both 10 types of dog. If the farm is extensive enough to support herds of cattle, barley-flour with whey is a suitable food for all dogs without distinction; but if the land is closely planted with young shoots and affords no pasture, they must be given their fill of bread made from emmer or wheaten flour, mixed, however, with the liquid of boiled beans, which must be lukewarm, for, if it is boiling, it causes madness.

Neither dogs nor bitches must be allowed to have 11 sexual intercourse until they are a year old; for if they are allowed to do so when they are quite young, it enfeebles their bodies and their strength, and causes them to degenerate mentally. The first puppies which a bitch produces must be taken from her, because at the first attempt she does not nourish them properly and the rearing of them hinders her general bodily growth. Dogs procreate vigorously up to ten years of age, but beyond that they do not seem suitable for covering bitches, for the offspring of an elderly dog turns out to be slow and lazy. Bitches conceive up to nine years of age, but are not serviceable after the tenth year. Puppies should not be allowed to run loose during the first six months, 12 until they are grown strong, except to join their mother in sport and play; later they should be kept on the chain during the day and let loose at night. We should never allow those whose noble qualities we wish to preserve, to be brought up at the dugs of any strange bitch, since its mother's milk and spirit always does much more to foster the growth of their minds and bodies. But if a bitch which has a litter is 13 deficient in milk, it will be best to provide goats' milk for the puppies until they are four months old.

Dogs should be called by names which are not very long, so that each may obey more quickly when he is called, but they should not have shorter names than those which are pronounced in two syllables," such as the Greek HKvXa^ (puppy) and the Latin Ferox (savage), the Greek AaKcov (Spartan) and the Latin CeZer (speedy) or, for a bitch, the Greek UttovSti (zeal), 'AXK-q (Valour), 'PcojU-Ty (strength) or the Latin Lupa (she-wolf), Cerva (hind) and Tigris (tigress). 14 It will be found best to cut the tails of puppies forty days after birth in the following manner : there is a nerve, which passes along through the joints of the spine down to the extremity of the tail; this is taken between the teeth and drawn out a little way and then broken. As a result, the tail never grows to an ugly length and (so many shepherds declare) rabies, a disease which is fatal to this animal, is prevented.

It commonly happens that in the summer the Eemedies ears of dogs are so full of sores caused by flies, that eases of 'they often lose their ears altogether. To prevent this, the ears should be rubbed with crushed bitter almonds. If, however, the ears are already covered with sores, it will be found a good plan to drip boiled liquid pitch mixed with lard on the wounds. Ticks also fall off if they are touched with this same pre- paration; for they ought not to be plucked off by hand, lest, as we have remarked also before, they cause sores. A dog which is infested with fleas should be treated either with crushed cumin mixed in water with the same quantity of hellebore and smeared on, or else with the juice of the snake-like cucumber, or if these are unobtainable, with stale oil-lees poured over the whole body. If a dog is attacked by the scab, gypsum and sesame should be ground together in equal quantities and mixed with liquid pitch and smeared on the part affected; this remedy is reported to be suitable also for human beings. If this plague has become rather violent, it is got rid of by the juice of the cedar-tree. The other diseases of dogs will have to be treated according to the instructions which we have given for the other animals.


Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (4 – c. 70 AD) is the most important writer on agriculture of the Roman empire. Little is known of his life. He was probably born in Gades, Hispania Baetica (modern Cádiz), possibly of Roman parents. After a career in the army (he was tribune in Syria in 35), he took up farming. His Res rustica in twelve volumes has been completely preserved and forms an important source on Roman agriculture, together with the works of Cato the Elder and Varro, both of which he occasionally cites.

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