When most people think of dog power they usually consider this to be hauling of sleds, carts, wagons and travois but dogs have provided power in other ways. For example on the Island of Newfoundland, the Newfie dogs were used to power the blacksmith’s bellows and the turner’s lathe.
With the industrial age came the need to find power sources for all sorts of machinery. Steam engines were used for large machines but smaller ones like butter churns needed a more compact form of power. Eventually internal combustion engines and electricity met this need but in the interim, small animals like goats, sheep and of course, dogs, were used.
The heyday for this form of animal power was the 1800’s. The devices used for animal power, especially for dogs, kept getting more and more sophisticated culminating in many patent applications in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Some of these inventions involved improved footing for the animal and designs to keep the animal in the centre of the track. At the start of the 19th century, simple low speed gearing was used but as the century progressed, many forms of gearing were developed.
Of course some sort of platform was needed to provide rotating or reciprocating energy from a dog walking to a form that could be used by the machine as modified by the gearing. There were three types used: treadmills, wheels and carousel like platforms. Most popular was the treadmill and these were often angled to provide more power as it was the weight of the dog that actually was supposed to be providing the energy. The wheels or drums were like giant hamster cage wheels while the carousel platforms resembled a small merry go-round floor.
Besides the bellows, lathes and butter churns, dogs also pumped water from wells, powered water sprinklers, washed clothes, separated cream from milk, ran sewing machines, grind stones, fanning mills and corn shellers.
Possibly the most unusual variation was in Britain where dogs were used in wheels to turn roasting spits. They even developed a specific breed called the turnspit.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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