Year of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Kyle Volk

Commitee Members

Michael Mayer, Jeff Wiltse, Kelly Dixon, Christopher Pastore


University of Montana


Between 1800 and 1920, dogs played a substantial role in structuring the modern urban experience. The great influx of people to cities in the early nineteenth century initiated a physical and social transformation of the urban landscape in ways that allowed the canine population to flourish. Far from being the useful companions of rural America that kept vigil over livestock, or aided in the hunt, free-roaming urban dogs became both a nuisance and a public health threat.

The dog wars of the long nineteenth century established the terms upon which Canis familiaris might accompany humans into a modern world. Forced to evolve beyond their niche as guardian of life and property, dogs and their supporters managed to effect a remarkable transformation in canines’ roles. The dog’s sociability thrust some members of the species farther into the lives of people. Caring owners relocated their dogs indoors where they gained the rights of property, became fixtures in parlors or backyards, and decisively embedded themselves in the emotional core of American family life. In the process, dogs lost much of the autonomy and self-reliance that had been intrinsic to their species. Instead, their defenders foisted upon them the characteristics of a helpless child in need of protection. But not all dogs were even that fortunate. Abandoned curs remained pariahs on the street and were left to their own devices, enduring much of the same cruelty that they had faced in urban settings throughout the nineteenth century.

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