Bring It Back: Useful Dogs

by Chelsea Hughes

Dogs is an anagram of gods. This is no coincidence. Dogs ARE gods. Well, at least they were, until around the 1960s when they started becoming as lazy and useless as their human owners.

Dogs used to be majestic and brave and accomplished. They did stuff that was noble and rewarding and useful. Nowadays they are nothing more than sacks of pet. The 6 hours a day they aren’t sleeping are filled with such mundane activities as eating plasterboard, licking themselves and dry humping the Lazyboy.

Here are some dogs who can’t be arsed getting off theirs. Image from Flickr member spotzilla.

I would argue that Lassie was the last in a long tradition of useful dogs. Even then, Lassie was a just a TV show and the dog who played Lassie was pretending, like most actors, to be useful.

So I say let’s take a page out of history and bring back useful dogs. Let’s re-employ modern dogs to do something more meaningful with their lives than chasing their own tail.

Antiques Dealer

This is Brutus, a renowned New Zealand canine antiques dealer and arguably the most useful dog in the antiques industry. He was a difficult personality, quite intense and some would say over committed to his work.

He’d be the first to tell you that sitting on a couch is not the same thing as assessing the value of a couch. Brutus owned his own auction house in Stratford for over 50 (dog) years before his 3 pack-a-day smoking habit put him in an iron lung.


Dog called Brutus. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1978/0937/19-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


After World War II, there was a drastic shortage of humans willing to serve in the New Zealand armed forces. Desperate for seaman (zing!), the New Zealand Defence Force enlisted dogs to serve in the military. The situation became so dire that the NZDF eventually allowed German dogs to enlist.

Despite their hesitation to enlist German dogs, ‘Able seaman Hansel’ proved quite useful as a sentry for the Royal New Zealand Navy and later went on to become a Rear Admiral in 1961, in part due to his penchant for sniffing butts.

Dog on warship. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 114/283/06-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


The Great Depression of the 1930s had a devastating effect on the lives of millions of people around the world, including New Zealanders. Without money to keep their businesses afloat, New Zealand farmers took desperate measures to ensure their livelihoods. One such measure included replacing dairy cattle with giant, spotty dogs. These “wetnurses of the farm” proved very popular among New Zealand farmers. Their loyalty and intelligence was a welcome change to the farmers, who were bored of their thick, emotionless cows.

Woman with dog. Nicol, Robina, 1861?-1942 : Photographs. Ref: 1/2-233633-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Baby Propper-Upper

Before tiny chairs were invented in the late 1970s, parents relied on dogs and ghost nannies to hold their children upright. For those who couldn’t afford a ghost nanny, dogs became the popular choice for the working class.

Some would argue that dogs today are no different then their yesteryear counterparts because both can be seen propping up small children. But for those dogs of the past, Baby Propping was a vocation that required years of training and experience. Propping a child against a qualified dog is not the same as leaving your child to rest on a sleeping pile of bones.

Unidentified infant and large dog. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-007498-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Unidentified infant and large dog. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-007498-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


In what was perhaps the worst game of Chinese whispers ever played, researchers have recently discovered that Sir Edmund Hillary’s companion in conquering Mount Everest was actually a Sharpei. It makes perfect sense: Sharpeis have heaps of skin, which would surely help to insulate their little bodies from the extreme temperatures atop Mount Everest. They are also incredibly cute, which would’ve lifted Hillary’s spirits on the long and grueling climb.


Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sharpei, Laverne.Original photos from and 



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