Towards the end of the 18th century crime was pervasive in areas of the UK, no more so than London, due to a lack of police presence, an extreme divide between classes and an overall desire to become wealthy in an intense social environment.
While human security guards or ‘watchmen’ were proving to be little challenge for organised crime groups and tenacious individuals – ‘watchmen’ often had similar agendas to those carrying out the burglaries, or would simply abandon their posts – owners started considering security dogs as an access control security measure.
The 18th century and early 19th century was central to an unprecedented hotbed of criminal activity. Georgian London was overrun with thieves trying to steal away a fortune. It has been estimated that £500,000 worth of goods were stolen from the docks area each year, which is the equivalent to £40m today.
There was an inherent lack of authority in the 18th century as a result of the lack of centralised law enforcement. The security solutions that were in place had scant impact, authorities lacked the resources to investigate and prevent crime while there was no uniformed officers on the streets.
Crime in the 18th century operated on the basis of the ‘bloody code’, meaning those who were caught were invariably given the death penalty, as advocated by newspapers of the time. Joseph Hayes from Gizmodo reports: “Newspapers of the time, such as the London Daily Advertiser, reported stories of horror as overblown as anything in the Daily Mail today, and took the view that only way to solve the problem was with more hangings”.
This era was not a particularly pleasant one for those we now call ‘man’s best friend’, as it was an age of casual cruelty to animals. The upper classes perceived dogs as vermin, especially when they were partnered with the lower echelons of society. However by the turn of the century, dogs were no longer viewed as a burden, but as a ‘right’.
Shutters, locks, bolts and chains were no obstacle for those prepared enough but a dog’s bark would alert people of those with ill intentions, ultimately helping to bring arrest and trial. Thieves began to think again upon the consideration of an encounter with a security dog’s ferocious bite, although there were ways to get beyond security dogs.
A familiar face would sometimes be sent to greet the dogs, offering food as a means of distraction, while some would either poison or brutally slaughter the canine guards. Joseph adds: “In one instance in 1774, the dog was slaughtered to stop it preventing a warehouse robbery, while another was burnt with acid in the process of defeating a gang of thieves seeking to rob a grocer that same year.”
However, as the significance of using dogs as a security method grew, attack dogs were trained to tackle criminals swiftly and mercilessly.
Dogs play a crucial role in providing security in the 21st century, the deployment of one dog handler can be as effective as that of several officers or security guards. The discipline, instincts and intellect that a security dog provides through their training, proves to be invaluable assets when called upon.
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