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Dog-Pak-Sadle-art - 3/2/14


"Reconstruction of a 16th Century Dog Pack Saddle" by Lady Rachael of Bhakail.


NOTE: See also the files: Dog-Carts-art, p-saddle-bags-msg, carts-msg, leather-msg, woodworking-msg, Sadle-Blankts-art, saddles-msg, dogs-msg.





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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Reconstruction of a 16th Century Dog Pack Saddle

by Lady Rachael of Bhakail
Barony of Bhakail, East Kingdom



Table of Contents




Documentation of Pack Dogs and Pack Saddles



Saddle Construction and Observations

Dog Safety

End Notes



Appendix A: 16th Century Citations of Dog Pack Saddles

Appendix B: Additional pictures of period saddles

Appendix C: Cart dogs from 14th– 20th Century




Dogs have been used as draft animals and beasts of burden for many centuries. Dr. Caius in his 1576 book, Of English Dogs, describes several types of draft dogs; Tinker Cur, Water Drawer, Turnspit Dog, and Butcher Dog. Traveling tinkers used the Tinker Cur to carry their tools in pack saddles. According to Agricola (1556), pack dogs were used in the German mining industry. A woodcut in Agricola shows a dog pack train and an empty dog pack saddle. This pack saddle looks similar to horse pack saddles used in the 16th century and earlier.


The 16th century pack saddle is different from the familiar sawbuck saddle associated American West. This style of European pack saddle was used post 16th century in England and Spain. A mid 20th century description of the European pack saddle was used to fill in the construction details that are lacking in period descriptions and pictures of pack saddles.



The goal of this project was to create a pack saddle that appears period from a few feet away. I desire to learn about saddle construction and function. I believe that this style of pack saddle functions differently than the sawbuck saddle. I expect to make several versions of this pack saddle while I learn how to fit it to my dog and as I learn how this style of saddle works.


Documentation of Pack Dogs and Dog Pack Saddles

Dogs have been used as draft animals and beasts of burden for many centuries. In his 1576 book, Of English Dogs, Dr. Caius describes several types of draft dogs: Tinker Cur, Water Drawer, Turnspit Dog, and Butcher Dog [1]. Traveling tinkers used the Tinker Cur to carry their tools in pack saddles [2]. Unfortunately, Dr. Caius does not give a detailed description of the pack saddle other than the panniers (saddle bags) were budgets (leather boxes [2a]).



Figure 1.


Figure 2.


According to Agricola (1556), pack dogs were used in the German mining industry [3]. Dog pack trains were used in steep mountain areas that were impassible by horses, mules, and donkeys [4]. A crude woodcut shows a dog pack train (Figure 1) and an empty dog pack saddle (Figure 2). The panniers (saddle bags) were made of pigskin leather or linen ("double or triple twilled linen thread")[5]. The woodcut indicates the pack saddle is similar to horse pack saddles used in the 16th century and earlier (Figures 3, 4, 7, and 8).


Figure 3. Late 16th century.


Figure 4. Early 16th century.


The European style of pack saddle is different from the familiar sawbuck saddle associated with the American West (Figure 5). I believe Agricola did not describe the construction of the pack saddle in detail because in the 16th century it was a common sight. This style of pack saddle can be found in pictures from the 11th century (Figure 7, Bayeux Tapestry) through the 20th century. I used pictures of horse pack saddles to fill in construction details that are missing from Dr. Caius and Agricola's books. W.H. Pyne's sketches [6] from 1808 show the pack saddle from angles not seen in many pre-1601 pictures (Figures 9 and 10). Joe Back's 1959 book, Horses, Hitches, and Rocky Trails [7], was particularly helpful (Figure 6).


Figure 5. Sawbuck saddle.


Figure 6. Mid 20th Century


Figure 7.


Figure 8.


It is valid to look to horse pack saddles when re-constructing a 16th century dog pack saddle. Instead of inventing something from scratch, people tend to use existing technology that is familiar. Thus, it makes sense that 16th century pack saddles for horses and dogs would have similar features. Draft technology evolves.


When a new draft animal is introduced to an area, the existing technology is applied until a technology specific to the new animal evolves. This harness and draft technology evolution has been seen numerous times. Cattle (bovids) were employed as draft animals before the equids [8]. The neck yoke was invented for cattle and cattle were controlled by a goad and by reins attached to nose rings [9]. When the donkey, onager, and horse were first domesticated, the neck yoke, goad, and nose ring were used [10,11]. Eventually, the bit was invented [12,13] and the dorsal yoke (chariot harness) [14] was invented for equids.


In the early middle ages, the draft horse lost his status as a "race car engine" and for the first time he was used extensively in agriculture[15]. Again, the draft harness evolved. The breast harness and rigid collar and hames were invented to allow the horse to pull a plow and harrow efficiently. The North American Indians of the plains used draft dogs hitched to travois. When the plains Indians started using the horse in the 17th century, they took their dog draft technology and applied it to the horse[16].



Figure 9. Early 19th century.


Figure 10. Early 19th century.


Pictures of European cart dogs from the 14th century [17] through to the beginning of the 20th century, show the dog harness technology and cart technology was similar to that used with horses (See Appendix B). Rigid collars and hames are used or a breast collar [18]. Breeching is used, but I have yet to see a crupper used on a dog. Since I rarely see pictures of cruppers used on horses prior to 1601, I decided not to make a crupper for my dog pack saddle. Instead, I only used breeching instead of breeching and crupper. I believe I am justified in filling the details that are lacking with details from similar horse pack saddles.




Wood: Poplar


Upholstery nails

Upholstery tacks

3/8" No. 3 Blued Tacks

1/2" No. 6 Blued Tacks

Cotton Strapping (3/4")

Wool fabric



This is the first version of the pack saddle. What I learn from version 1, will be applied to the next version. Thus I made the conscious decision to use scrap materials left over from other projects. The saddle pad is scrap wool that was originally bought to make a warm winter cloak. The wool fabric was washed several times in order to give it a more "felt" like appearance [19] (Figures 11 and 6). The poplar wood was found in the scrap pile of Lord Tommaso Valeriano's wood working shop. 16th century riding saddles were constructed of Beech [20, 21]. Beech is a lightweight and flexible European hardwood. It was used because it was a lightweight hardwood that could flex slightly with the horse's movement. I used poplar because it is also a light hardwood and there was no beech in Lord Tommaso Valeriano's wood scrap pile.


I used the blued upholstery tacks because they looked old fashioned and don't look objectionable from a few feet. I didn't like my scrap leather and I decided to buy cotton strapping for the girth, breeching and breast straps (Figure 13). The cotton strapping is off white and has a semi course weave. From a distance, I feel it doesn't look objectionable and could possibly pass for linen straps.



Figure 11. Saddle pad Figure



Figure 12: Saddle pad and saddle tree


Figure 13. Pack Saddle Tree




I am a novice woodworker. Lord Tommaso Valeriano was kind enough to let me use his modern woodworking power tools to construct the saddle tree. He gave wood working advice and made sure I didn't hurt myself. I used a flexible, heavy gage wire to make a pattern of my dog's back for the saddle tree (Figure 15). I left a gap at the top of the saddle for her backbone (Figure 16). I am not a talented seamstress. I hand sewed the saddle pad (Figure 11 and 14) and you will observe why I do not enter garb in A&S displays.


Figure 14. Saddle Pad.


Figure 15. Fitting the saddle tree.


Figure 16. Gap for backbone


Saddle Construction/Observations


I didn't like the thickness of the scrap leather I had. When the leather was nailed on the saddle tree, I felt the upholstery tack and leather strap stuck out too much. So, I decided to use cotton strapping for the girth, breeching, and breast strap. I left the original leather straps on. If they rub my dog's skin too much, I well replace the leather with the cotton straps. I felt these cotton straps could pass for linen when observed from a distance of a few feet. Thus, I felt the cotton straps do not distract from my goal, which was to create a pack saddle that appears to be period when observed from 5 feet or more feet.


The dog pack saddle in Agricola has one girth and no breeching or breast straps (Figure 2). When I tried the pack saddle on my dog, I noticed the girth kept slipping back towards her hind legs. The reason the girth slipped is because dog's belly is cut under more steeply than a horse's belly. Period horse pack saddles, riding saddles and side saddles have one or two girths (Figure 4). In fact, side saddles in use prior to 1601 evolved out of the pack saddle [22, 23] and side saddles are frequently depicted with two girths. In addition, period pictures of horse pack saddles show both breeching and breast straps (Figures 4, 7, and 8).


Figure 17.


Figure 18.


I added a breast strap to help keep the pack saddle in proper position. The single girth alone was not enough to keep the saddle from sliding backwards. Withers on a dog disappear when the dog lowers his head (Figure 18). On a horse, the withers are prominent irregardless of the head position. When riding in flat terrain, the withers alone can be used to keep a horse saddle from sliding too far forward. But you can not depend on the dog's withers to prevent the saddle from sliding forward. Thus, for practical use, I added breeching to my pack saddle. Period pictures of horse harness tend not to show a crupper. Antique photographs of canine carts show breeching, but no crupper used on a dog25. Thus, I decided not to use a crupper with my dog pack saddle. The last strap I added to the pack saddle was the second girth (Figure 21). The second girth is closer to the front legs than the original. The girths on my dog cart harnesses are located there and in this position the girth does not slip24.


For practical use, I found the combination of two girths, breeching, and breast straps prevented the pack saddle from sliding forwards/backwards and from rotating sideways. The pack saddle tree keeps the panniers (Figure 22) in place, even when my dog sits down. I feel the original panniers I made were too deep. The bottoms got muddy and they swung against my dog's legs more than I liked. The second set of panniers did not go below the dog's belly (see photos on the table of contents.) I found a dog pack saddle to be very practical at SCA camping events. My dog carries my water bottles, feast gear, sewing projects, her water bowl, and etc. At dog friendly events, I no longer use a basket or basket back to carry these items.


Figure 19.


Figure 20.


Figure 21.


Figure 22


Dog Safety


A fit dog should have no problems carrying up to 1/3 of his weight in a pack saddle26. 16th century Spanish explorers reported that the Navaho and Apache Indians loaded dog back packs with 30 to 50 pounds27. My dog weighs 58 pounds and according to my vet, she is very fit. One third of her weight is 19 pounds. Thus, she will have no problems carrying a wallet, car keys, sewing, water dish, and water bottles around events. Several years ago, I bought a nylon dog back pack and my dog happily carries two half gallon milk jugs home from the convenience store. In period, pack horses carried 99 to 150 kg (217- 330 lb) and mules carried 150 kg (330 lb)[28].


I designed the saddle tree to have a gap in saddle tree to accommodate my dog's backbone (Figure 16). The saddle pad has plenty of padding under the saddle tree. I observed that, in proportion to a horse, a dog's back is flatter than a horse and has more musculature surrounding the backbone. Thus, the backbone on a dog is not as prominent as on a horse, donkey, or mule. This is why, with my dog carts, I have been able to use just a strap and padding instead of a cart saddle29. A future project is to create a period cart saddle. I feel this pack saddle project is an initial project to learn about saddle construction and how saddles need to be fitted to dogs.


End Notes


[1] Caius 1576, pages 32, 36, 31.

[2] Caius 1576, page 32.

[2a] Felton 1796, volume 2, page 181.

[3] Agricola 1556, page 168.

[4] Agricola 1556, page 169.

[5] Agricola 1556, page 169.

[6] Pyne 1808, plates 17, 28.

[7] Back 1959, page 58.

[8] Littauer and Crouwel 1979, page 13.

[9] Littauer and Crouwel 1979, page 14.

[10] Littauer and Crouwel 1979, page 30.

[11] Littauer and Crouwel 2002, page 483. M. A. Littauer, "The Function of the Yoke Saddle in Ancient Harnessing."

[12] Littauer, and Crouwel 1979, page 60.

[13] Littauer and Crouwel 2002, pages 497-502. M. A. Littauer, "Bits and Pieces."

[14] Spruytte 1983, page 52.

[15] Weller 1999. "The Horse in Agriculture," Roman Traction Systems.


[16] Schwartz 1997, pages 29, 39, 51, 54.

[17] Smithfield Decretals circa 1340. f110v.

[18] Original photographs and engravings from the author's personal collection, 19th and 20th centuries. A small subset was published in Morris 2004, Carriage Journal and Baup 2005, Attelages.

[19] Back 1959, page 58.

[20] Gilmour 2004, p 46. Elise Blouet and Ian Beaumont, "The Conservation of a 16th

Century War Saddle."

[21] Gilmour 2004, page 54. Hazel Forsyth, "The Saddle from Unicorn Passage,


[22] Piggot 1992, page 90-91.

[23] Gilmour 2004, page 84. Lindsay Smith, "The History and Development of the


[24] Morris 2004 Tournaments Illuminated, pages 8 and 10.

[25] Morris 2004 Carriage Journal, page 17.

[26] Treadwell 1935, page 151.

[27] Schwartz 1997, page 52.

[28] Piggot 1992, page 90.

[29] Morris 2004 Tournaments Illuminated, pages 8 and 10.




Agricola, Georgius. De Re Metallica 1556. Translation: Herbert Clark Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover, 1912. Dover Publications, New York. ISBN: 0 486 60006 8


Back, Joe. Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails, 1959. Sage Books, Denver, Colorado. Library of Congress Catalog Card No.: 59-11063


Baup, Henri. "Chiens Attelés et Voitures à Chiens", Attelages Magazine, issue number 35 (Decembre 2004 - Janvier 2005). Pages 58- 61.


Caius, Dr. Johannes. Of English Dogs, 1576. Facsimile reprint, 1993. Beech Publishing House, West Sussex, Great Britain. ISBN: 1 85736 070 2


Clark, John (editor), The Medieval Horse and Its Equipment, 2004. Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Great Britain. ISBN: 1 84383 097 3


Felton, William. A Treatise on Carriages … Volumes 1 and 2, 1794 - 1796. Facsimile reprint, 1996. Astragal Press, Mendham, New Jersey, USA. ISBN: 1 879335 70 0


Gilmour, Lauren (editor), In the Saddle, An Exploration of the Saddle Through History, 2004. Archetype Publications, London, Great Britain. ISBN: 1 873132 89 1


Littauer, M. A. and Crouwel, J. H.. Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East, 1979. Leiden/koln, Netherlands. ISBN: 90 04 05953 9


Littauer, Mary Aiken, and Crouwel, Joost H.. Selected Writings on Chariots, other Early Vehicles, Riding and Harness, 2002. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, Netherlands. ISSN: 1566-2055. ISBN: 90 04 11799 7


Morris, Rebecca. “This Job’s Gone to the Dogs!” The Carriage Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, January 2004. ISSN: 0008-6916. Pages 16, 17, and 29.


Morris, Rebecca. "Dog Carts and Draft Dog Training," Tournaments Illuminated Magazine, Spring 2004, issue 150. ISSN: 0732-6645. Pages 8 – 13.


Piggott, Stuart. Symbol and Status in the History of Transport, 1992. Thames and Hudson Ltd, New York City. ISBN: 0-500-25114-2


Pyne, W.H.. Rustic Vignettes for Artists and Craftsmen, 1808. Reprint Dover Publications, New York. ISBN: 0 486 23547 5


Rowan, Dana (editor), European Masterpieces, 2000. National Gallery of Victoria Publication, Melbourne, Australia. ISBN: 0 7241 0205 1


Spruytte, J.. Early Harness Systems, 1983. J. A. Allen & Co. London. ISBN: 085131376010


Schwartz, Marion. A History of Dogs in the Early Americas, 1997. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. ISBN: 0 300 07519 7


Smithfield Decretals (MS Royal 10 E IV), C. 1340, folio 110v. Illuminated in London, England. British Library. In 2005, the author bought a black and white photograph of folio 110v directly from the British Library.


Walden, Arthur Treadwell. Harness and Pack, 1935. American Book Company, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta.


Weiditz, Christoph. Authentic Everyday Dress of the Renaissance. All 154 Plates from the Trachtenbuch, 1529, 1531/1532. Reprint 1994. Dover Publications, New York. ISBN: 0 486 27975 8


Weller, Dr. Judith. Roman Traction Systems, 1999. Internet, http://www.humanist.de/rome/rts/index.html




Figure 1. Agricola 1556, page 168.

Figure 2. Agricola 1556, page 168.

Figure 3. Rowan 2000, page 38. Sebastiaen Vrancx, Crossing the Red Sea, circa 1597 – 1600.

Figure 4. Weiditz 1529, 1531/1532, plate XXXV.

Figures 5 and 6. Back 1959, page 58.

Figure 7. Bayeux Tapestry, late 11th century. http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/

Figure 8. The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11, folio 197r. Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands. http://www.kb.nl/kb/manuscripts/thumbsa125/MMW_10A11_197R_MINT.JPG

Figure 9. Pyne 1808, plate 28.

Figure 10. Pyne 1808, plate 17.

Figures 11 – 22. Photographs of reconstructed pack saddle. Photographs by the author.


Appendix A: 16th Century Citations of Dog Pack Saddles


De Re Metallica, by Georgius Agricola, 1556. Translated into English by Herbert Clark Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover in 1912. Reprint by Dover Publications, New York.

ISBN: 0 486 60006 8  

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: A51 8994


Pack Dogs and Pack Saddle descriptions, Pages 168 – 170.

In the winter time,…they also fill sacks made of hide and load them on dogs. … Some of the Noricians collect ore during the winter into sacks made of bristly pigskins and drag them down from the highest mountains, which neither horses, mules nor asses can climb. Strong dogs, that are trained to bear pack saddles, carry these sacks when empty into the mountains. When they are filled with ore, bound with thongs, and fastened to a rope, a man winding the rope around his arm or breast drags them down through the snow to a place where horses, mules, or asses bearing pack-saddles can climb. There the ore is removed from the pigskin sacks and put into other sacks made of double or triple twilled linen thread, and these placed on pack-saddles of the beasts are born down to the works where the ores are washed or smelted. If, indeed, the horses, mules, or asses are able to climb the mountains, linen sacks filled with ore are placed on their saddles, and they carry these down the narrow mountain paths, which are passable neither by wagons or sledges, into the valleys lying below the steeper portions of the mountains. … the beasts either carry it (ore) away on their backs or drag it away after it has been thrown into sledges or wagons.


Of English Dogs, Dr. Johannes Caius, originally published in 1576. Facsimile reprinted in 1993 by Beech Publishing House, West Sussex, England. Page 32.

ISBN: 1 85736 070 2


Tinker Cur


Because with marvelous patience, they bear big budgets fraught with tinker's tools and metal meet to mend kettles, porridge-pots, skillets, and chafers, and other such trumpery; requisite for their occupation and loitering trade: easing him of great burden, which otherwise he himself should carry upon his shoulders; which condition hath challenged unto them the foresaid name.


Besides the qualities which we have we have already recounted, this kind of dog hath this principal ingrafted in them, that they love their masters liberally and hate strangers despitefully; whereupon it followeth that they to their masters, in traveling, a singular safeguard: defending them forcibly from the invasion of villains and thieves, preserving their lives from loss, and their health from hazard, their flesh from hacking and hewing, with such like desperate dangers. For which consideration they are meritoriously termed.


Harness and Pack, Arthur Treadwell Walden, 1935. Published by American Book Company, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta.


Chapter 19, page 151.

A dog can carry about a third of his weight and do it easily. There are two troubles with dogpacking, however. One is that when dogs become hot they want to lie down in every spring and brook they come to, thereby soaking the load. Another is, if they catch sight of a rabbit, a stampede is likely to ensue. All that can be done in that case is to follow them and pick up what they have scattered on the way.


Chapter 4, page 28.

There are two kinds of pack saddles. The sawbuck saddle was made on a wooden frame and because it was stiff and unyielding was very hard on the horse. For this reason the Spanish "aparejo", which was made of leather, was much superior to the wooden saddle. This Spanish or Mexican saddle consisted of a sheet of leather about 30 inches wide which extended over the horse's back and well down his sides. It was well padded underneath so that it fitted the animal snuggly. There was a wide breast strap and breeching, or holdback strap, which passed behind the haunches, and a girth or "cinch" underneath. With this kind of saddle it took an expert packer to put the load on, but the horse could do his work much better with his back protected in this manner. The packs were tied on by means of noose-like knots called "hitches."




Appendix B: Additional period pictures of pack saddles and side saddles.


Appendix C: Cart dogs from 14th – 20th Century

See my website, History of Dog Carts



Copyright 2013 by Rebecca Morris, <TheDancingJewel at aol.com>.  Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org