Bene cane (in the style of H.V. Morton)

The dogs of Lugano are as well-styled as their masters. The city is further removed from Italian nobility than Milan or Bellinzona, but the region as a whole seems to echo the Sforza predelection for canines. Sitting on a well-worn park bench by the lake, one can watch the sidewalks become a promenade for the locals and their pets as the sun begins to climb above the eastern mountains. People- and dog-watching are pastimes that may add layers of character to a city if the observer knows what they are looking for.

Most of the familiar breeds I spot come from working or companion rather than show lines. There are plenty of small dogs, but none of them are toys: there is a greater trend towards functional terriers than the neurotic purse-dogs one finds carried as bits of living decoration in American cities. A lady passes with two miniature poodles, which are beagle-sized and neatly lamb-clipped in contrast to the shivering bits of cotton-wool that represent the teacup variety of their breed. For the first time in my life I encounter a standard dachshund, a thirty-pound hound with bowed but functional legs. A person accustomed to the beady-eyed miniature type might be surprised by this sturdy animal, but dachshunds were originally bred to hunt badgers and this specimen still looks the part.

In addition to their conformation, Swiss dogs vary in other elements of style. Humane laws in Switzerland prohibit the aesthetic cropping of dogs’ ears and tails. While it is somewhat unusual to find a long-tailed Weinmariner or a Schnauzer with soft ears in the United States, both can be seen jogging happily through town beside their owners.

Many of the dogs wear jackets, an apparent frivolity that becomes practical for short-haired breeds in the frigid alpine air. The locals wear warm jackets as well, often festooned with more fur than the dogs that trot beside them. A woman in a long fox coat walks by with a small spitz. The breed’s sharp features are decidedly vulpine, and I wonder if the coordination between pelt and pet is deliberate.

A stately older gentleman with a mastiff cross pauses near the dock. Mastiffs and their kin, the heavy war dogs known as molossers, have existed in Switzerland for centuries. The tempera-and-paper illustrations at the castle in Bellinzona featured tawny, dark-mouthed dogs that could have been first cousins to the animal now obediently ignoring the ducks his master contemplates. Without the towering construction equipment just visible through the blue haze on the far shore, the scene could be timeless: man and dog beginning their day together on the shore of an ancient lake.

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