Never Bring a Dog into a Drawing Room: The Etiquette of Paying Calls with Pets

“Favorite dogs are never welcome visitors in a drawing-room.”
Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, 1866.

Lady and a Greyhound by Václav Brožík, 1896-97.
(National Gallery, Prague Castle)

In the Victorian era, etiquette books offered very specific advice on how to conduct oneself when paying a social call. In some cases, this advice differed from book to book and decade to decade, but in one respect all the etiquette manuals throughout the Victorian era seem to agree. When paying a call on a friend or acquaintance, one should never bring along one’s dog. As the 1840 book Etiquette for Ladies states:

“To carry children or dogs with one on a visit of ceremony, is altogether vulgar. Even in half ceremonious visits, it is necessary to leave one’s dog in the ante-room…As for animals, it is a thousand times better not to have them at all.”

By the 1860s, advice relating to visitors’ dogs in the drawing room was relatively unchanged. Expounding on the subject in his 1866 Hand-book of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, author Arthur Martine informs his readers that:

“Favorite dogs are never welcome visitors in a drawing-room. Many people have even a dislike to such animals. They require watching lest they should leap upon a chair or sofa, or place themselves upon a lady’s dress, and attentions of this kind are much out of place.”

Mastiff Holding a Calling Card by Otto Eerelman, 19th century.
Mastiff Holding a Calling Card by Otto Eerelman (1839-1926).

The strictures on dogs in the drawing room remained in place throughout the Victorian era in both England and America. For example, in her 1877 book the Ladies’ and Gentleman’s Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society, author Eliza Duffy writes:

“Never allow young children or pets of any sort to accompany you in a call. They often prove very disagreeable and troublesome.”

While in her 1893 book Rules of Etiquette & Home Culture, author Mrs. Walter Houghton advises that:

“Callers should never take children or pets with them, as they are apt to be very annoying to some people.”

This advice was all well and good for the visitor who brought a dog along with them, but what was a guest to do if the dog in question belonged to their hostess? Fortunately, Victorian era etiquette manuals offered advice on this subject as well. In her 1884 book Etiquette, the American Code of Manners: A Study of the Usages, Laws, and Observances, author Mary Sherwood gives her readers instructions on how to behave if they encounter a dog in the drawing room of their host or hostess. She writes:

“The family dog is a very hard case to manage. If he be ugly, and frighten you, go around him cautiously; if he be dirty and offensive, and if, like Macbeth’s crime, ‘he smell to heaven,’ never speak of it. A family are always sensitive on this point. They will defend the dog at the cost of their lives, and as a guest, if you would preserve your popularity, do you also defend, praise, and endure the family dog.”

Lady with Dog and Parasol by Fernand Toussaint (1873-1956).

Sherwood goes on to advise that it is a guest’s job to be “as agreeable as possible.” Therefore no matter how bad the weather or how bad-smelling or bad-tempered the resident family dog, a guest must “never abuse the weather, or the family dog.” In her 1891 book Polite Life and Etiquette, author Georgene Benham goes one step further. Instead of merely refraining from verbally abusing or criticizing the family dog, Benham advises actively befriending domestic pets. To do so was as much a measure of good character as any other social grace. She writes:

“Do not hesitate to be the friend of any domestic animal. How rude, senseless, weak, and degrading it is to abuse the poor dog, cow, or horse, our servants and slaves. True, they were created for us, but for use, not to abuse.”

The general advice on bringing dogs along when visiting a friend or acquaintance seems fairly sensible and straightforward. What is not made clear in Victorian era etiquette manuals is whether this advice also applies to small lapdogs which a visiting lady might hold in her arms. After researching this topic quite a bit, I tend to think that the advice was geared more toward larger dogs who often jumped up on people and furniture. This is not to say that small dogs were wholly welcome in the drawing room of one’s host or hostess. In fact, when let down onto the floor, small dogs could often be just as destructive as their larger brethren.

A Dispute – King Charles Spaniels by Benno Adam (1812-1892).

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History. If you are interested in adopting a dog or if you would like to donate your time or money to a rescue organization, I urge you to contact your local animal rescue foundation or city animal shelter.  The below links may also be useful as resources:

The Humane Society of the United States (USA)

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (UK)

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

Sources 

Benham, Georgene Corry. Polite Life and Etiquette: Or, What is Right and the Social Arts. Chicago: Louis Benham & Co., 1891.

Duffy, Eliza Bisbee. The Ladies’ and Gentleman’s Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1877.

Etiquette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1840.

Houghton, Mrs. Walter. Rules of Etiquette & Home Culture: Or, What to Do & how to Do it. New York: Rand, McNally, & Company, 1893.

Howard, Lady Constance. Etiquette: What to Do and How to Do It. London: F. V. White & Co., 1885.

Martine, Arthur. Martine’s Hand-book of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness. Bedford: Applewood Books, 1866.

Sherwood, Mary Elizabeth Wilson. Etiquette, the American Code of Manners: A Study of the Usages, Laws, and Observances. New York: George Routledge & Sons, 1884.

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bridget whelan
bridget whelan
4 years ago

It’s fantastic that you can look forward to a very creative and productive 2017 – you deserve it. Well done!
This is an interesting post ,but how chilling to read slaves being mentioned casually in the same context as domestic animals. ” True, they were created for us, but for use, not to abuse.” And this in a book apparently published in America some 30 years after slavery was abolished. How was that possible?

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago
Reply to  bridget whelan

Thanks so much for your comment, Bridget :) I believe that Georgene Benham meant that “the poor dog, cow, or horse” were “our servants and slaves.” She could have written the sentence a bit more clearly, though!

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
4 years ago

I wouldn’t invite back anyone who brought their dog into my house, unless they asked first and I knew the dog, or was aware it had problems of separation anxiety and was not likely to go silly at my cats. I shut the cats up elsewhere if I have a visit from someone I know to be allergic or phobic. You don’t need etiquette books to behave with common courtesy. With a child who wasn’t old enough to be part of the conversation, I would sit said child down with books and paper and colouring pencils so they wouldn’t be… Read more »

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

I can see how children might have been an etiquette blind spot with some ladies who went visiting. After all (a lady might think), who wouldn’t want to see her brilliant beautiful child? As for dogs, I’m not sure how anyone could have thought it was all right to bring along their dog on a call. Unless they were a dowager with a small spaniel, a pug, or a Pekingese!

Nancy A Bekofske
Nancy A Bekofske
4 years ago

Loved the quote putting children and dog in the same ‘annoying’ category! Congratulations on your books. Please know I review galley and new books through NetGalley and Edelweiss and From ARCS and if the publisher has review copies I would be glad to receive them!

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago

Thanks so much for your comment, Nancy, and for your offer to review my book :) I’m not 100% sure of the process at my publisher for when they sending out review copies, but I will definitely pass along your name!

nmayer2015
nmayer2015
4 years ago

I do hope it was merely poor sentence construction– an additional ‘they are ‘ would have clarified the matter. As it is , it sounds as though servants and slaves were lumped with cows . Who discusses cows in the drawing room?
It has never been “proper” to take children along on one of those calls. Most had at least one servant watching the children. Those who couldn’t afford a servant didn’t make calls.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago
Reply to  nmayer2015

I really do feel that it was poor sentence construction, Nancy. And Benham was discussing kindness to all animals being a measure of one’s character, not just those in the drawing room!

Marg Parsons
Marg Parsons
4 years ago

Mimi, Happy New Year! Delightful to find your most recent post. It’s a good reminder for all who received Christmas puppies – ill-behaved dogs or children, to say nothing of cows, are never welcomed then or today.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago
Reply to  Marg Parsons

I’m so glad you enjoyed my article, Marg :) And you are absolutely right about this Victorian advice being as applicable today as it was then.

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
4 years ago
Reply to  Marg Parsons

Let us hope that fewer in this day and age are so irresponsible as to give Christmas puppies [or kittens] who, as shelter staff know only too well usually end up as March ferals which is why any responsible shelter will not permit adoption of any animal for a Christmas present.

paper doll
paper doll
4 years ago

It’s amazing what the Victorians can still teach us! I remember a funny story Jean Kerr of ” Don’t eat the Daisies” fame use to tell of the hostess’s dog at a cocktail party. The dog jumped up on Jean’s lap and processed to wolf down one of her clip earrings before being shooed off. Jean exclaimed to the hostess ” Your dog just ate my erring!” and her hostess said ” Oh it’s okay, don’t worry . It won’t hurt him! ” LOL. I on the other hand have been bitten by a dog at a party. He had… Read more »

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
4 years ago
Reply to  paper doll

There’s no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad owner.
I don’t mind going to a gathering with a dog so long as the dog is known to me and well disciplined – and used to interacting with a lot of people, because that tends to obviate over-excitement

paper doll
paper doll
4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

Indeed and this was a barbecue, so grilled meat and galloping kids all over the place …one did not have to be a seer to see what could have happened.

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
4 years ago
Reply to  paper doll

hell yeah…

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago
Reply to  paper doll

Your Jean Kerr story is just like an 18th century story Horace Walpole used to tell about an elderly lady whose dog bit a man. The lady then exclaimed “Won’t it make my dog sick?” :) But I do think in general dogs should be kept away from guests, especially if you’re having a larger party. It’s easy for a dog to feel overexcited or overwhelmed in those situations.

paper doll
paper doll
4 years ago

” The Pug Who Bit Napoleon “

I love this title. Very excited about your upcoming books! Your writing and the illustrations are bringing back important history in a beautiful fashion

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
4 years ago
Reply to  paper doll

I’m so glad you like it :) The animal tales and artwork have come out beautiful and I’m excited to share it with all of you. I’m hoping it will be up for pre-order sometime this summer!

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