Dogs in Jane Austen’s Novels, by Eliza Shearer

Dogs in Jane Austen’s Novels, by Eliza Shearer

Although (just like servants) they are often little remarked upon, dogs are everywhere in Jane Austen’s novels.

In the Regency, dogs were an essential feature of countryside living: we might as well imagine their incessant barking in the background when we read Austen’s stories, particularly during hunting season or when the men head outside.

Most dogs were seen as working animals, such as aids to hunting or shepherding, although sensibilities were rapidly changing. Here’s what Jane Austen’s stories tell us about pooches and their owners two hundred years ago.

Efficient Workers

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot’s brother-in-law Charles Musgrove owns several hounds. We are even told that one of Musgrove’s hunting sessions with Captain Wentworth is spoilt by a young dog, presumably because it was too excited or tired to keep up with the sportsmen.

A good hound was invaluable to huntsmen. In Sense and Sensibility, Sir John Middleton is incensed when he discovers Willoughby’s true nature, perhaps even more so because he has just given Willoughby a precious present: a puppy by Folly, his favourite hound.

“Such a scoundrel of a fellow! such a deceitful dog! It was only the last time they met that he had offered him one of Folly’s puppies! and this was the end of it!”

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 32

Later, when Willoughby is unhappily married to a rich woman, we learn that he breeds hounds for pleasure, and he sees them as one of the few consolations of life. (I wonder if one of the dams or sires he keeps is Folly’s baby?).

Loyal Companions

Sir John’s tender words towards Folly suggest that, beyond valuing their hunting prowess, some dog owners were particularly attached to their furry friends, something Jane Austen reflects in her novels.

In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney keeps “a large Newfoundland puppy and two or three terriers” in the parsonage. They are “the friends of his solitude”, the companions he shares his single life with.

And of course, there’s Pug, the most spoilt pooch in Austen’s works. Mansfield Park’s Lady Bertram is extremely fond of the dog, and Jane Austen cleverly uses the relationship between the two to convey Lady Bertram’s newfound interest in her niece. The woman sees Fanny so much improved that she makes her an unthinkable offer, one that corroborates her affection:

“And I will tell you what, Fanny, which is more than I did for Maria: the next time Pug has a litter you shall have a puppy.”

Mansfield Park, Chapter 33

Lady Bertram’s attachment to Pug always stood out to me when reading Mansfield Park. What if Lady Bertram had paid less attention to her pet and more to her daughters? And, alas, dogs have shorter lives than humans. What would the woman do when Pug was no longer there? (My musings made it to Miss Price’s Decision, and spoiler alert: Pug is getting on…).

So What did Jane Think ?

We have little evidence of Jane’s actual thoughts regarding dogs. We know that, ten years after Jane’s death, Cassandra got a dog to keep her company, but we have no indication that the sisters owned a dog during their life together.

Jane Austen was a busy woman. She had to fit in her novel writing around housework and childcare for her brothers, and she also travelled a fair bit. Perhaps a dog wasn’t the ideal pet for her (I can sympathise! As much as I’d love a pooch, now it’s not the right time).

However, I do wonder what Jane would think of our relationship with dogs. I imagine she would find the industry built around catering to their every need highly amusing!


What other dogs do you remember noticing in Jane Austen’s novels? Would you say you are a dog person, and if so, do you have/have had any pooches you’d like to tell us about? 

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June 9, 2021 5:32 PM

For some reason, my son is terrified of dogs so no dogs for us but I think they make great companions for those that have the time.


[…] This article first appeared in Austen Authors. […]

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
May 25, 2021 5:53 PM

My mother NEVER liked cats. She had allergies so perhaps she was allergic. I don’t know. I just knew we never had cats. My great-grandmother loved them and when mother would enter the house, the cats exited the back. They knew.

When I was little, we had a cocker spaniel. I understand these are very hardworking dogs. I suppose he looked after me. LOL! As an adult, we had a Pekingese with chihuahua coloring. Not sure what you would call that. Peki-chu, I don’t know. When our lives became busy with work and life, we didn’t replace the dog. Too much was going on and we just didn’t have the time to give it appropriate attention. That isn’t very fair to the poor thing. I hate seeing people with dogs and then ignoring them. Why have them?

I have always wondered why in JAFF stories they don’t use dogs more. How many times has Elizabeth fallen, was hurt, lost, or had gone missing? They gathered all these men to go and hunt for her… why not set the dogs loose? The whole time I’m sitting there wanting to yell ‘someone get the dogs.’ Really, that would be reasonable and they could still have the hero moments. Oh, well. I think they should use more dogs in JAFF. This would be fun.

I loved the S&S movie where John Middleton is surrounded by a pack of his dogs. I love that scene. And Lady Bertram’s pug is hilarious. She could keep one of the puppies from Pug’s litter for herself now that Pug is getting on in age. Wonder who the sire would be? What Lady or gentleman would have a pug to breed with the Bertram’s Pug? I’m sure Lady Bertram would be very particular… far more to the mating of her Pug than her children. LOL! I just thought of that. HA!

Thanks for this informative post. Blessings, stay safe, and healthy.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
May 25, 2021 7:30 AM

I am most definitely a dog person. There has seldom been a time in my life when I haven’t had a dog. At present we have a Labrador Cross. He’s nearly twelve years old but unfortunately he’s very unwell at the moment. He has a bad heart and is on a lot of medication. He’s gone a bit downhill the last two weeks. We also said goodbye to his companion some time ago. He was an Irish Wolf hound and he was a right old slob. He loved people, especially children and was in Heaven when my nephew came to visit.
He reached nine years old. which is a bit of a record for a Wolfhound I believe. We were broken hearted when he died.
I didn’t know about Cassandra getting a dog for company. Always learning new things from this blog.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
May 25, 2021 7:16 AM

I have a dog all my life! I can’t imagine not having one. My dog and I are besties! I can’t think of any more dogs in Jane’s work but a lot of variations have dog’s in them.

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