Capitalization: Dog breeds

February 4, 2010: Issue 326

Dear Style on the Go,

What do you have against beagles? You capitalize Labrador, Saint Bernard, and Jack Russell, but beagle gets a measly lowercase b. Is there some kind of breedism going on here?

Spotty Dogs Rule

Dear Spotty,
We have nothing against beagles. An impossibly sweet beagle-pointer mix (a boingle, maybe?) rules our house. We’re following Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, and Web 11 is following a simple rule: Capitalize breed names or parts of breed names drawn from proper nouns.

The Labrador retriever is named for a region of Newfoundland. The Saint Bernard is named for a Swiss hospice. The Jack Russell terrier is named for an English clergyman and dog breeder. The beagle—now please don’t take this personally—seems to have gotten its name from an Old French term meaning loudmouth.

Of course, this rule has exceptions. Shiba Inu is capped, even though it comes from the Japanese words for brushwood and dog. By the way, if you haven’t seen the Shiba Inu puppy cam, check it out. You’ll forgive these little fur balls for their unearned capitalization.

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