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The Mythological Dog PDF Print E-mail

wolf_howl_moonWe think we know dogs. They are our constant companions and our loyal friends. Throughout history, dogs have played important roles in mythology and storytelling; roles that belie the slobbering, romping pals that share our lives. We sure love them, but it seems that dogs weren't always greeted with the hugs they deserve. Without delving too far into the spooky forests of Halloween, let's take a peek at Fido's forays into the darker side of superstition, legend, and folklore. It's hard to believe that the following associations once ruled the dog's life.

Dogs are believed to be bestowed with second sight, the ability to see spirits and sense death. It is also believed that dogs howl in response to death and spirits, making the howling dog the bearer of bad news. In medieval times, a newborn baby welcomed by a dog's howl was slated to live an unhappy life, probably entrenched in a dark personality. A story that circulated after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln told of his dog running around wildly and howling just before he was shot. (Although this could be interpreted as the dog not so much transmitting impending bad news as trying to warn of a cherished friend in danger.)

There are many other superstitious tales about dogs. For instance, a dog who digs up a stranger's garden is foretelling death or illness for that stranger and/or his family. A dog who sleeps with his tail straight out behind him and his paws upturned is foretelling the arrival of bad news; the bad news should arrive from the direction the tail is pointed. The Irish believe that it is bad luck to ask a dog a question, for if the dog answers, the asker will likely die. According to many beliefs, dogs can also predict oncoming storms. (There actually is some evidence that dogs and other animals can detect imminent earthquakes and maybe there is some truth to this supposition.)

Dogs guarded the ancient Roman temple of Jupiter and were immortalized by the ancient Greeks with a place in the skies: the constellation Canis Major. Dogs were so revered by their Egyptian masters that the entire family went into mourning when the family dog died. There were special burial rites and private cemeteries for dogs. Anubis was the Egyptian god of the dead and ruled over the underworld. Other underworld stories pit a guardian dog with snakes on its neck against the Greek goddess, Hecate, known to plague her victims with horrifying nightmares.

Folklore has not been much kinder to our canine sidekicks. European tales tell of packs of demonic dogs that wander the night sky looking for lost souls. The story goes that if you hear the howling, your soul would soon be up for grabs. Yama, a Hindu deity, purportedly used four-eyed dogs to help him locate people who were about to die. And let's not forget the frightening stories of werewolves—half man, half dog, thirsty for human flesh—and the cautionary tales of the Big Bad Wolf who appeared in both Aesop's fables and Grimm's fairy tales.

Considering dogs' scary reputations throughout history and across the globe, why have so many households included them as members of the family? There are strong practical and emotional reasons. Despite all of the negative connotations associated with them, dogs are skilled hunters, dedicated protectors, and lifelong friends. Not a bad deal for a mere pat on the head and some scraps of food.

In recent years, dogs' lot has improved, as we've grown to truly appreciate them as loving, loyal family members. In ever more areas of the world, dogs no longer have to earn their keep—their friendship and happiness is more than enough reward.

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.


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