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Forgotten Jobs: Dog Whipper And Sluggard Waker

Photo: Nelson Antoine/Shutterstock.com

In 16th-century England, stray dogs disrupting church service became such a big problem that many parishes employed “dog whippers”, whose job was to shoo away dogs and prevent these animals from crowding around the church or attacking priests when he was handing out communion bread and wafers on church steps. The dog whipper carried a whip and a long pair of tongs using which he would grab a dog by its neck and physically remove him from the church grounds.

In those times, it was not uncommon for household dogs to accompany their owners, or willfully follow them to the church. Although the dogs would patiently wait outside for the services to be over, fighting would invariable break out among the pack gathered outside the church door. The dog whipper would then pull out his whip and begin lashing at those who made the most noise. The tongs came in handy when the dogs fought back, or when the pack became difficult to control.

Many churches had full-time dog whippers, but because budget was tight, they were assigned other duties like that of the “sluggard waker”. A sluggard waker watched over the attending congregation and if any of them fell asleep, it was his duty to wake them up. He carried a long wooden pole, tipped with a brass knob or a fork, with which he knocked sharply on the heads of the dozing lads, or poked between the shoulder blades with the fork. Some sticks were tipped on both ends—a brass knob (or fork) on one end and a fox tail on the other. If the sluggard waker spied a drowsy female, he used the fluffy end to gently tickle her awake.

The dog whipper was paid in any way possible, such as cash or essential goods. One church in Birchington-on-Sea, in Kent, donated an acre of land to the dog whipper. There is a small park there now, called 'Dog Acre'.

Dog whippers started to fade from the late 18th century onwards, as churches began instructing believers to leave their pets at home. One of the last recorded dog whippers was John Pickard, at Exeter Cathedral. He was appointed in 1856. Exeter Cathedral still has a dog whipper but only for ceremonial purposes.

Many churches also carry relics of this forgotten profession. In St. Anne's Church, Baslow, Derbyshire, there is a dog whipper’s whip hanging in a case by the door. In St. Margaret's Church in Wrenbury, Cheshire, there is a dog whipper's pew, and in the Great Church of St. Bavo in Haarlem, The Netherland, one can see a carving of a dog whipper removing a dog with his whip.

Sculpture of dog whipper, or hondenslager, in Grote Kerk, Haarlem. Photo: Jane023/Wikimedia Commons

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