So a man walks into a bar, and hears a squeak-squeak-squeak from the fireplace. He looks over, and sees a wheel, not unlike one of those found in cages with white mice, only bigger. The wheel is turning, hence the squeaking. Inside the wheel is a dog. Really. Walking round.
Think this is a joke? Think again...
I cannot remember the name of the place. Not only seen through the fog of years, but also the memory imprint flawed by the post-party hangover. I think we'd breakfasted, and someone suggested a hair of the dog, so we all piled into someone's tatty Mini, and down to the village pub we hied. It was in Norfolk, possibly Suffolk. It had been a tremendous party.
There were beams, real beams, this being an old village inn. There was an inglenook of course, and this odd little inset on the other side of the inn. I was facing it, that chair being the closest to the door, and even in my muzzy-headedness, my curiosity was aroused. I asked the landlord later,and he told me.
In times long past, many pubs and inns roasted their meat in the form of whole animals, and over an open fire. This was usually done on a spit, some of which were turned by means of a wheel (about a metre in diameter) powered by dogs. Dog...wheel. Simple really.
The dogs used were often a special breed called a Turnspit, a cross between a dachshund and a Jack Russell, presumably so they would fit in the confined space of the wheel (which was often built into the wall alongside the fireplace). They would also have to be agile and have plenty of stamina, as a roast pig might take hours to cook - another reason why we use the phrase "a dog's life"
Once their turn (sorry) was done, they were rewarded with bread and beer - a dish called the "dog's nose". Funny the things you can learn on a post-party Sunday morn.
Examples of dogwheels are still to be seen in British pubs — in fact there is a Dogwheel pub in Bewdley, in the English West Midlands.