Despite this poster showing seven capering poodles surrounding the antic Mr Young, the act itself appears to only have involved a single dog. Poodles were rare in Britain in the Victorian period; indeed, society’s view of dogs in general was very different. While working dogs were quite common in the countryside, either on farms or as hunters, it was extremely rare for someone to keep one as a pet and companion. Bill Sykes’s bulldog Bullseye from Oliver Twist (1838) would have been a novelty in London not just because of his breed, but by the sheer fact of him being led through the streets by his master.
Performing animal shows were very popular during the mid-Victorian period, when they featured in music halls, circuses, magic acts and even scientific demonstrations. The more exotic the animal – or in the case of dogs, the more exotic the breed – the better. The extent of Britain’s empire allowed circus entrepreneurs in particular to import lions, tigers, elephants and seals to Britain, where native audiences would simply have never seen their like.