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Prior to the introduction of turnspits around the 16th century, the painstakingly tedious and unrelenting job of turning the spit was left to the lowest ranking member of the household, “usually a small boy“, though in larger households the size of the spit necessitated delegating the job to an adult.
Turnspits were generally seen more as kitchen tools than fuzzy members of the household who needed just as many belly rubs and chin scratches as normal dogs. Along with being subjected to the same long hours and awful conditions as the human spitjacks before them, turnspits would often be cruelly mistreated by their owners. For instance, to train them to run at the correct speed, a common method was simply to throw a hot coal into the dog’s wheel every time it slowed too much. During their off-time, the exhausted turnspits were known to work great as footwarmers.
Turnspits were ultimately replaced by steam-powered machines and by the end of the 19th century the breed officially was declared extinct.