Dogs are often referred to as “man’s best friend.” They are amongst the most beloved animals in the world, and have had important relationships with humanity since the dawn of civilization. The symbolism of the dog is associated with unconditional love and loyalty. Due to their closeness with humans and their uniquely social natures, dogs are rich with spiritual meaning and appear in a number of myths and traditions.
Table of contents
- Dog Symbolism and meaning
- Dog Native American Symbolism
- Dog Eastern Symbolism
- Dog Christianity Symbolism
- Dog Celtic Symbolism
- Dog African Symbolism
- Dog in Dreams
- Dog Encounters and Omens
- Dog Mythology and Folklore
- Dog Spirit Animal
- Dog Totem Animal
- Dog Power Animal
- Dog Tattoo Meaning
Dog Symbolism and Meaning
Dogs are a powerful symbol of unconditional love, loyalty, and protection. The symbolism of dogs plays an important role in art history where dogs represent devotion, fidelity, and faith. (1)
A Faithful companion and reliable protector, the dog is also a symbol of loyalty, honesty, and companionship. Many Renaissance portraits feature important figures posing alongside their beloved canine companions. Dogs are often symbolic of love and domesticity.
Dogs may also represent sociability and cooperation.
Because of their persistence, dogs can also be associated with endurance and perseverance. Many great artists have painted scenes of dogs hunting. Their elegant strength inspires artists.
Lastly, the dog symbolizes playfulness. Dogs remind people of the importance of enjoying life. There will always be challenging times, but dogs remind us that a life without fun is no life at all.
Dog Native American Symbolism
The dog is a prevalent symbol amongst many Native American tribes. To understand what dogs represent spiritually, we must first consider the roles that dogs have played in Native American tribes. Dogs were almost always present as guides, hunting companions, and camp guards. (2)
Some Native American cultures associate the dog with protection, unconditional love, and loyalty. A strong belief among some Native Americans was that the Great Spirit spoke to them through animals, and that these creatures were considered their brothers and sisters.
This is why many Native American stories and legends are related to the proper treatment of dogs. People who mistreated dogs were harshly punished, while those who showed kindness to these fantastic animals were rewarded. (3)
Occasionally, dogs were used as clan animals and as symbols to represent the strength of the tribe. The fierce guardianship and self-sacrifice associated with the spirit of the dog led the Cheyennes to name their highly respected warriors the “Dog Soldiers.” (4) These warriors were responsible for protecting and guarding the villages, and were considered to be fearsome, just, and deeply important.
Rarely, some negative features were associated with the dogs, as depicted in various folktales. Dogs are sometimes depicted as gullible, easily distracted, or even as tattletales, perhaps for their habit of barking noisily. All in all, however, Native American cultures favor dogs and tend to depict them as symbols of friendship, virtue, courage, and loyalty.
Dog Eastern Symbolism
In China, the relationship that people have with dogs is a bit more complex. There, dogs are farmed for meat, and festivals are even held in which dog meat is sold and celebrated. (5) However, dogs are honored by the Chinese zodiac. Chinese people consider the dog an auspicious animal, so a visit from a dog is believed to bring fortune.
Because of its important and nuanced role in Chinese culture, dogs feature prominently in the myths and stories that originate in China.
A trustworthy companion of all great heroes of the Chinese legends, dogs are often valued highly for their loyalty and courage. The ancient Chinese symbol of Foo Dog is supposed to depict a lion; however, it looks more like a stylized dog. This symbol represents guardianship and protection. (6)
In Japanese culture, the symbolism of dogs is related to devotion, honor, and diligence. White dogs are especially meaningful for the Japanese people who associate these animals with good luck and fortune.
Komainu, or “lion dogs” are guardian spirits. Statues of Komainu are often found guarding the entrances to Shinto shrines and temples. (7)
Dogs are also meaningful within the cultures of Korea. The Pungsan dog is the national symbol of North Korea. (8) These dogs are said to be pure, spontaneous, and loyal to their owners. For these reasons, they symbolize the country’s proud spirit.
Dog Christianity symbolism
The biblical meaning of dogs is a bit less straightforward and positive than the cultures summarized previously. Despite some more negative connotations, though, biblical symbolism involving the dog includes many positive meanings.
In the Bible, wild dogs are connected with brutality, thievery, and thugs. (9)
In spite of this, some biblical symbolism involving the dog connects this animal with faithfulness and with healing. The imagery of a dog licking its wounds to cure them connects canines with renewal and healing. Saint Roch is known as the saint of dogs, and he is usually depicted with a canine companion by his side. Saint Roch is often invoked to ward of disease. (10)
Some medieval dog paintings depict Saint Dominic (the founder of the Dominican order, also known as “Dogs of Lord”) next to a dog carrying a flaming torch in its mouth. The dog is a trustworthy companion and a symbol of obedience.
To conclude, although the dog is sometimes connected with negative symbolism in the Bible, many of the Church fathers and saints are depicted alongside their canine companions. Dogs are a valid symbol of faith, obedience, and loyalty.
Dog Celtic Symbolism
What is the meaning of the dog amongst the Celtic cultures? Celtic traditions see hounds as emblematic of courage, honor, and extreme loyalty. They are also associated with healing; Gallic gods of healing springs having sacred dogs. (11)
Hounds have always assisted Celts when hunting or in battle. They were such revered that the highest compliment for a warrior was to compare him to this dog. Dogs were also seen as a symbol of good luck.
Many Irish legends include hounds, the most famous one involving the Celtic hero Cuchulain, known as the Hound of Ulster. This hero’s legendary ferocity was likened to a hound and earned him his nickname. (12)
In Welsh mythology, the Underworld ruler, Gwyn ap Nudd, escorts the souls of the dead in the Underworld, leading a pack of supernatural hounds. (13)
The Celtic Hounds are seen as guardian figures and sources of healing powers. Hounds are consistently associated with gods, goddesses, and heroes.
Symbols of courage and loyalty, hounds, were offered as gifts to honorable men. In ancient Celtic Ireland, many chiefs and warriors adopted the name “Hound” as a title to demonstrate bravery and devotion. To summarize, the dog is a massively important Celtic symbol whose meanings rage from ferocity and nobility to healing and holiness.
Dog African Symbolism
Though most cultures have a strong positive connection to dogs, a number of African stories and legends see the dog as a conniving dark spirit with similarities to hyenas and other scavengers. In these contexts, dogs are connected with the dark side of human nature.
Ancient Egyptians, however, treated the dog as a noble symbol. Egyptian mythology is well known for its reverence towards cats, but dogs were similarly cherished. This can be proven by observing the depictions of dogs left over in Egyptian art. Dogs were painted following their owners to the tomb, and they were honored with burials fit for nobles. (14)
The powerful god of death and the afterlife, Anubis, is known as the “jackal god” although the ancient Egyptians did not distinguish between jackal and dog. He was referenced as “the dog who swallows millions.” Dogs roamed freely near the temples of Anubis and were also bred for sacrifice.
Egypt is also the place where the first collars were found. The dog’s name was written on these collars, proving the strong relationship between dogs and their masters.
Dog in Dreams
What is the spiritual meaning of dogs in dreams? Dreaming about dogs is usually a sign of protection, generosity, fidelity, and intuition.
Sometimes dogs in your dreams can represent you or someone close to you, such as a friend or family member.
To dream about being bitten or attacked by a dog means that someone in the dreamer’s life is unkind, rude, degrading. This is also a sign of betrayal. The spiritual meaning of a dog attack can either be linked to an inner conflict within yourself or to someone close to you being unfaithful or untrustworthy.
Dreaming about a German Shepherd dog is related to open-mindedness, but it may also indicate gullibility or peer pressure.
Dreaming of a Rottweiler is associated with confidence, courage, and protection. This breed gives you the confidence to confront whatever lies in front of you.
Dreaming of dead dogs is a bad sign warning that possible conflicts loved ones might follow. This dream signifies internal chaos or discord. It is a reminder that bitter conflicts often result in pain. You should heed the warning to avoid meaningless quarrels.
If you dream about puppy symbols, it signalizes your parental or protective instinct. It can also symbolize a person in your life who is impulsive, needy, curious, or lacking discipline.
Dog Encounters and Omens
Dogs are amongst the most common animals for people to encounter in their daily lives. Despite this, certain encounters may stand out or feel particularly meaningful. Generally, dogs indicate positive premonitions, however there are instances in which a dog could be interpreted as the deliverer of a bad omen.
Black dogs are often treated as symbols of death and darkness. Unexpectedly crossing paths with a black dog is frequently interpreted as an omen. Black dogs are thought, in some traditions, to be denizens of the underworld. If a dog appears out of nowhere, it is no longer connected with loyalty. Instead, these encounters are thought to be evil spirits or shapeshifters.
Another bad omen is hearing a dog barking and howling. This is a sign of death nearby. However, barking at the moon holds a different connotation. This represents futility and wildness.
The white dog’s spiritual meaning is a positive one associated with pure feelings and magical abilities. The omen of the white dog has been interpreted as a sign from the creator bearing unknown religious purpose. The white dog spirit is a harbinger of positive change.
Another good omen is when a stray dog follows you. It indicates that you are putting positive energy out into the world, which attracts positivity back to you.
Dog Mythology and Folklore
Often seen as companions of heroes and gods, the presence of dogs is consistent throughout mythology and folklore. Dog spirit guides are encountered in many stories and legends. Some of them are seen as trustworthy and loyal friends; others are depicted as creepy creatures who stalk the night.
The black dog symbol is very pronounced as all these creatures are regarded as harbingers of death. On the eastern coast of England, stories tell of the fearsome Black Shuck, a large ghostly black hound with flaming eyes. According to legend, he roams around forests, cemeteries, crossroads, and bodies of water. (15)
The Barghest is a similar mythological dog said to inhabit the north of England. This magic dog can take many forms, and it is believed that he foretells death. (16)
Cavall is King Arthur’s dog, who accompanied his master when he hunted the enchanted boar Twrch Trwyth. (17) Cerberus is the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the Greek and Roman underworld. He prevents the dead from escaping and the living from entering Hades. (18) Both of these dogs are powerful companions who carry out the will of their respective masters.
Argos was the faithful dog of king Odysseus. He recognized his master after twenty years of absence and died shortly after Odysseus passed by him. He is often recognized as symbol of undying loyalty and devotion. (19)
Dog Spirit Animal
The dog spirit animal is a powerful guiding force with a widespread and influential presence in the spiritual lives of humankind.
Various breeds of dogs are connected with different meanings and are thought to deliver different messages.
The wisdom of the Husky spirit animal reminds us that the journey is more important than actually getting to the destination.
The Golden Retriever spirit animal teaches confidence. It reminds that you possess all the knowledge, skills, and support to achieve your goals. The spirit of the Golden Retriever reminds you to trust your instincts.
The Chihuahua spirit animal indicates the need to follow one’s heart and eschew logic every once in a while. Impulsivity is not a good habit in daily life, but it can help you to find joy in spontaneity.
Pitbulls symbolize vigilance and watchfulness. They remind you to be careful of the people that you choose to trust.
The spiritual meaning of dogs varies; therefore, the black dog spirit animal represents evil while the white dog’s meaning is about love and devotion.
When we talk about the dog spirit animal, the keywords are unconditional love, devotion, and faithfulness. A dog will stay forever with you. The symbolism of the dog is linked with unconditional undying love.
Dog Totem Animal
The dog animal totem has provided humans with symbolic renditions of trustworthiness, protection, faithfulness, and respect.
As a totem animal, the dog carries the meaning of everlasting allegiance to family and friends, his affection and devotion exceeds those of all other animals. A dog will never abandon his master despite the mistreatment. However, a dog does not tolerate abandonment.
People who connect with the dog totem animal tend to be sociable and nurturing. The dog totem symbolizes the capability to commit to a spiritual path or personal belief without hesitation.
Also, people with dog totem are loyal without limits. They often fear abandonment and are devoted to those that they trust to stay by their side. People who interact with the dog totem might find this as a reminder that true friendship still exists. The dog totem has the power to guide people and bring together those who will uplift one another. It is meant to be invoked for selfless purposes.
Dog Power Animal
The dog power animal is strongly associated with healing energy, empathy, and intuition for the needs of others.
A dog is sensitive and intelligent, and people can learn from it the true meaning of unconditional love and forgiveness. Due to its ability to perceive subtle sound frequencies, the dog can also be associated with the supernatural and magic.
People who call upon the dog power animal are often generous and selfless. For these reasons, they must beware of deceitful people who may take advantage of them.
The dog is a potent reminder that you should always be truthful and loyal to yourself by having self-respect and self-value. The dog might also teach us to be wary of the company we keep. Loyalty is an excellent trait, except for when it is manipulated by people with bad intentions.
Dog Tattoo Meaning
Most dog tattoo ideas stem from personal affection for a canine companion. These tattoos are often memories of loyal friends who have passed into the spirit world.
Dogs are excellent companions on any journey, whether this is spiritual, physical, or emotional. A tattoo depicting a dog might be a good idea for those who feel that they have lost their direction.
Dog tattoos can be associated with lunar and/or solar qualities. Moon dogs accentuate the need to break out of conformity. Solar dogs encourage self-expression and clear communication.
The color of a dog tattoo is also important for understanding its meaning.
A tattoo of a black dog is linked to courage and spiritual fortitude. White dogs tattoos are symbols of clarity, virtue, purification, loyalty, and commitment.
Sometimes connected with the sacred waters in Celtic mythology or Asclepius, the ancient Greek physician, the dog can symbolize healing powers. A dog tattoo can serve as a powerful statement of your desire to heal others and/or yourself.
A dog tattoo might also illustrate an energetic playfulness attitude, a child-like good nature that many people lose over the years.
Dogs are powerful symbols of loyalty, friendship, devotion, and hard work. Whether you feel connected to the healing spirit of the dog or to the unconditional love that canines are frequently connected with, the dog can be a source of wisdom and spiritual clarity. Throughout human history, these animals have grown and played and served alongside us. It is no wonder, then, that the dog can tell us so much about ourselves.