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It used to be thought that the dog originated somewhere in the fertile crescent, but Finnish genetic researcher Savolainen, in his analysis of the mtDNA of a great variety of dogs from around the globe, demonstrates that their domestication must have taken place in East Asia.  This transformation from wolf to dog is thought to have occurred nearly 15,000 years ago.  Without dogs, it seems unlikely humans would have been able to spread throughout the world; nor would we have developed civilization. (Dogs That Changed the World, Nature, PBS, 2008.)

Clean and Unclean

In Persia

In ancient Persia, dogs were one of the preferred means of disposing of corpses.  This is the likely reason why they were, and still are in some places, considered to be especially unclean.  It is not solely because they may have eaten carrion that they are avoided, but also because it is often thought that evil spirits readily associate with dead bodies.

Therefore, in the Zoroastrian rituals of old, the dead body is placed on a stone slab out in the open.  Then a dog is brought near in order to inspect the face of the dead person, for it was believed that it had an ability to see and chase away any evil spirits that may have associated themselves to the corpse.  

In Arabia

There is an anecdote told of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam:  One day, a panting dog feebly approached one of his followers, who took notice of the poor animal. Seeing a puddle of muddy water, he tore a scrap off the hem of his shirt, soaked it in the water and taking the dog in his lap, he moistened its mouth.  

Another person, witnessing this, went and told the Prophet that a member of the group had handled a filthy animal, "and therefore he should not be allowed back here again." 

Mohammed asked, "What was he doing to the dog ?" 

"I don't know, but I saw him moistening its mouth with a torn piece of cloth dipped in muddy water." 

"Then," replied the Prophet, "He is a better Muslim than you, because he is kind to animals." 

However, in most of the countries which have been influenced by Arab culture, dogs are held to be unclean and are rarely permitted in the home.  An exception, according to Roger A. Carras, late president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are the coursers and gaze or, sight, hounds, most notably the Saluki, which is used for hunting. 

In India 

The purest native form of Indian dog is an elegant animal called the Santal Hound.  However the ordinary street dog is known as a pye dog, or pariah -- an animal outcaste. 

Outside the emergent Indian middle class, where dogs are kept as pets or as status symbols, the dog is generally considered unclean and a pest.  But there is also an ancient tradition of respect for canines.  For example, 

"Since 1927 a dog [had been] following the retinue of the Matha.*  It was a strange dog -- an intelligent animal without the least trace of unclean lines. It would eat only the food given to it from the Matha. The Acharya would therefore enquire every evening if the dog had been fed. When the camp moved from one place to another, the dog would follow, walking underneath the palanquin, and when the entourage stopped so that the devotees of the way side villages could pay their homage, it would run to a distance and watch devoutly from there, only to rejoin the retinue when it was on the move again. One day, a small boy hit the dog; and the dog was about to retaliate, when the officials of the Matha, in fear, caused the dog to be taken to a distance of twenty-five miles, blindfolded and left there in a village. But strange as it may seem, the dog returned to where the Acharya was, even before the person who had taken it away could return.  From that day onwards the dog would not eat without the Acharya's darshana** and stayed till the end of its life with the Matha."   [This happened near Nagari.]

      ~  (*math is a Hindu saint, in this case the 68th Shankara-acharya, Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati of Kanchi. **being in sight of his presence.)

The ending of the Mahabharata centers on a dog.  When the Pandava brothers hear of the destruction of their cousins and of Krishna, having experienced the cruel devastation of the war they retire to the Himalayas to be contemplatives.  They throw their weapons into the river, and go along with their wife Draupadi to begin the ascent to Swarga, Indra's heaven on Mount Meru, but a dog begins to tag along. 

As they near the summit, first the woman is left behind because of her attachment to Arjuna, and then one after another (because of each person's pride, hunger, love or other kind of attachment) four of her husbands fall dead.  The only survivors now are Yudhishthira and the dog.

Now Shakra [Indra's private name] appeared in his gleaming chariot.  "Embark in my chariot and come with me to Swarga."  But when Yudhishtira went to take his seat in the vehicle, the dog hopped in. 

When they reach the heavenly gates of Swarga, Shakra invites the pious, truthful Yudhishtira in, but the man says he does not want to be there alone.  Shakra assures him that he will see his brothers and Draupadi, already there.

Yudhishtira then says, "Lord of Past and Present, this dog who is so devoted to me should also enter."

Indra replies, "You have acquired immortality and all the joys of heaven today; leave the dog behind."

The man says, "Lord of a Thousand Eyes, what is the use of bliss if to attain it I have to reject one who is so devoted to me?"

"There is no place for people with dogs in heaven.  The apsaras will deprive you of their blessings; think of that.  Now will you give up the dog?"

"Even for such bliss, I could never leave one who is terrified, devoted to me, needs my help, is weak or begs for his life.  I could never abandon such a one."

Shakra informed him, "Whatever blessings or benefits a dog can observe, the heavenly daughters will take way.  So renounce the dog, and attain the joys of heaven.  You went on without your own brothers, why won't you give up the dog?"

But Yudhishtira said, "As long as they were still alive, I did not renounce them.  To abandon the dog would be like  injuring a  friend, or like frightening someone under my protection." 

Then Indra relented, and praised the man for the mercy he demonstrated towards the animal.  He admitted them together to Swarga as an example to others. 

Just then, Dharma "with his golden hair" emerged from the dog's form and blessed the man.  

Some say that this Dharma is the one who is the man's father, and that he had come to test Yudishtira's loyalty and was pleased with his son's conduct.  Others say that it is the Dharma-rajah who is Yama, Lord of Death but still others, that Dharma stands for the dharma that is the law of the universe itself. 

Shiva's Dogs

The dog is as much considered the vahana or animal vehicle of the Indian god Shiva as is the bull, Nandi.  In fact, when Shiva is depicted with four dogs, they are said to represent the 4 Vedas -- the most ancient of scriptures. Shiva in his wrathful form as Bhairava is especially portrayed with dogs. Here the association is with Lord Shiva as yogi who meditates at battlegrounds and cemeteries, and so is connected with canines as scavengers.

An Indian deity called Dattatreya combines the three male gods Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, and at his feet are the four dogs that are the Vedas. They accompany him as the hounds of heaven that track pure souls, and as the watchdogs of Dharma in the sense of ultimate harmony and truth. 



Loyal Companion

The dog has long been a symbol of loyalty.  The Abhinaka Jataka, one of the tales about Buddha's previous lives, recounts how even to an elephant, the dog is precious. When an elephant misses his dog playmate, he refuses to eat until the dog is restored to him.

Homer [Greek epic poet] wrote that when wily Odysseos returned home from Troy after years on the road, at first he was recognized only by his old dog, Argos.

Dogs as symbolic of sincerity and trustworthiness were also held sacred to the Roman god, Mithras,

The name of the Irish hero, Cuchulainn [pron. ku-kuh-lin] refers to his devotion to his country. (Cu means dog. ) He was a mighty person even at age seven when he killed the watchdog of Chulainn the Smith and in return, undertook to take its place as protector of the kingdom of Ulster.

The loyalty of dogs is often thought to work both ways:

A farmer intended to shoot a faithful dog, now too old to be of use. But the dog's friend the wolf had a plan.  Accordingly, he seized the master's child; the dog pursued and with a pretended struggle rescued the child. The grateful farmer now promised to keep the old dog as long as he lived.

~ Old Sultan retold by D.L. Ashliman (Grimm's # 48). 


Miserable Dog

Sometimes we forget that until a hundred or so years ago, dogs were not normally kept in the home.  At least since the 1500s people have been saying, It's a dog’s life when they mean that life is full of suffering.

Also, dogs left to breed unchecked in cities rapidly become pests, a source of vermin and disease.  They are associated with conflict, noise, dirt and misery.  When Turkey  moved to modernize, the thousands of dogs of Constantinople were rounded up, deposited on an island in the Sea of Marmora and left to die in a piteous and prolonged fashion.  Similarly,  in Nepal, the dogs of Kathmandu have been regularly rounded up and destroyed when they were thought to pose a threat either to health or to tourism. 

As former host Bob Barker of The Price is Right TV game show used to say, "Have your pet spayed or neutered."   Drew Carey now adds, "It's very important."

Reborn as a Dog

To live as a dog is considered a terrible fate.  In the Shantiparva of The Mahabharata (Book 3:28) that one who embraces another's wife, "becomes a dog for 100 lives and then a serpent. . . .  .  One who enjoys with a friend's wife or maternal aunt, becomes a dog."  The same fate will befall a person who waters milk, and so on.

Dogs and Death

In many mythologies, dogs or dog-like beings guard the underworld from unwelcome guests such as the still-living, and they also keep the dead where they belong.  Examples are  Cerberus, multi-headed guardian of the Greeks, his two-headed brother, Orthrus, and the Norse dog Garm, at Hel's door.  There are many others.


Interestingly, in the 2007 Halloween special of the television show, Phenomenon, Israeli mentalist Guy Bavli, who has the ability of stopping his heart, took more than 10 seconds to restart it.  When he finally did, by what seemed like a kind of self-generated electric shock, he remarked, "I could hear dogs -- lots of dogs."

In Welsh mythology, white hounds with red ears are denizens of Annwn, the Otherworld that is ruled by Arawn, lord of death.  In the tale of the hostel of Da Derga, there are nine hounds, and also many dog skeletons have been found buried in Celtic graves either having been sacrificed to accompany their masters or as offerings. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the darker dakinis has a dog for her vehicle.  And in the mandala of Vajravarahi, in the west, the direction of the Dead -- the place where the sun sets -- there is the red dog-headed dakini who is called Svanasya

Jackal-headed messengers or deities like Anubis of the ancient Egyptians represent the canine as a scavenger of corpses but also as an agent of transformation.  Although the jackal and the coyote or fox are tricksters, and the elusive yet social wolf functions as a representative of nature, only the dog fulfills the role of "Man's Best Friend." 

A Shoshone myth which explains how death came into the world illuminates the difference between wise Wolf and wily Coyote [called Ma'i by Navajo/southern Dene].  They are sometimes referred to as older and younger brother, respectively.

In the first days, when animals were not as they are today, Wolf was the  Creator of order in this world, while Coyote always tried to oppose him.  Knowing that, Wolf said to his brother, "When a person dies, he will be able to be revived if someone can shoot an arrow under him." 

Coyote disagreed, of course, saying that it would be a very bad idea to bring people back to life, since then there would be too many people and not enough room for them all. 

Wolf agreed, secretly deciding that Coyote's child ought to be the first to die.  As soon as he had that thought, the boy did indeed die.

When Coyote discovered that his child was dead, he went to Wolf to remind him about people getting a new life if an arrow were shot under them.  But Wolf in turn reminded Coyote that he was the one who had opposed that plan, and so it was he himself who had determined that death should be a final thing. 

The Dog in Buddhism

The following tale is one of the Jatakas, stories of the Buddha's former lives.

The Guilty Dogs

One evening, after the king had spent the day traveling in his magnificent carriage, the three pairs of horses were led back to the stables to be fed and watered, but through some oversight the vehicle was left untended in the courtyard.

During the night it rained, and the fine leather harnesses were softened and began to exude a spicy, powdery odour that proved irresistible to the palace dogs.   They tugged and gnawed, and scrabbled and chewed, and when just a faint glow appeared on the eastern horizon, they tip-toed away to curl up in their usual places.

In the morning, the syces and stablemen could not believe their eyes.  With cold feet and trembling hands, they went to tell the king. 

The king was furious. 

We do not know how the people responsible were punished, but we do know  that he called for the death of every single dog in the vicinity.

All the dogs in the city, pets and pye dogs alike, knew what would be the consequence of the actions of the royal hounds (all but the very youngest ones) and so they fled to the outskirts to join the packs that lurked in the woods.  At any moment, they expected the king's enforcers to come and exterminate every one of them for something they had had no paw in. 

The lead dog who, it is believed, was the Buddha in a previous lifetime, put his own fear aside, and calmly and with great dignity, went to talk to the king. He was so imposing that the guards made no move against him.

As he approached, the king asked, "How is it that you are still alive? 

The great dog prostrated his head on the carpet between his paws, rose again and replied, " I have come on a mission of mercy, your Highness. "Why are you determined to put to death every dog in the kingdom?  It is not possible that they all had a bite of the royal livery.  There is certainly not enough leather on six bridles and harnesses for every single dog here." 

The king replied, "Dogs chew royal property; dogs die." 

"Highness, you have always been a most just ruler.  The guilty ones deserve a punishment, that is true.  Which dogs did the chewing?" 

The noble hound continued, "Maharaj, is it right for all to suffer for the wrongs of only a few?  Your response to this question will surely cause deep reflection by those in your own household, not to mention your ministers and even your many loyal subjects of high and low degree."

After a brief hesitation, the king said, "If you can show me the guilty parties, I will spare the other animals."

The skillful dog responded, "It is known that dogs will eat grass to scour their stomachs, therefore, let all the dogs eat kula grass.  This will make them cough up what is in their bodies, and then we will find the guilty parties." 

"It seems that most of the dogs have fled," said the king. "Only the royal hounds remain.  How can royal dogs be compared to common curs?  But let us see if the kula grass is effective.  We will try it on them  first, then."

The royal dogs were fed kula grass and lo, and behold, they coughed it up along with little bits of gilded leather.

The king was amazed, and he reflected on his spontaneous angry response.   He put an immediate stop to the dog hunt.  He even halted the destruction of wild dogs (except those known to kill cattle.)  

As their penance, every year the royal dogs had to serve all the others --  pets, pye dogs and even those that lived in the forest -- at a great feast in the city centre. 

So it happened that a great king learned the virtue of restraint, justice, courage and compassion from the Tathagata, who in that lifetime was living in the Animal Realm as a lead dog.

Asanga and the Dog

Asanga yearned to have direct experience of the future Buddha, Maitreya. He slowly learned patience through guidance, practice and extraordinary experience.  Once, after he had been meditating for 12 years, he left the cave and encountered a poor dog lying ill by the wayside.  It was near death, its lower body covered with maggot-infested sores. 

His meditations had helped him to develop great compassion, and so Asanga was moved to ease the animal's suffering.  Naturally, he thought of removing the maggots, but he realized that if he did that with his fingers, he might injure them. (It is important to understand that in the Buddhist view -- and that of Jains and many other people -- there is no hierarchy in the realms of existence; each one is a poor  suffering individual like ourselves.) Therefore not to injure any maggot but yet still relieve the dog, Asanga's solution was to crouch down and gently skim off the maggots with his tongue. 

The moment he did that, the dog disappeared and Bodhisattva Maitreya appeared in its place.  Asanga said, "I have longed to see you all these many years. Why have you chosen this moment to appear to me?"

Maitreya replied, "I have always been with you, but before now you were not able to see me.  It was necessary for you to purify your mind and develop your compassion sufficiently before it was possible for this to happen.

To demonstrate the truth of what he had just said, the Bodhisattva whose name is maitri or loyal friend (or, loving-kindness) asked Asanga to pick him up, put him around his shoulders and take a stroll through the neighboring village.

Once there, no one noticed anything unusual at all except for one old woman, who asked, "What are you doing walking around like that with a sick dog on you?"

Of course, no one saw Maitreya and most noticed nothing out of the ordinary at all. This tale from the biography of Asanga* makes a lesser  and a greater point:  There is no clean nor unclean, repugnancy comes from learning.  And more importantly, whatever we experience -- all of reality -- depends only on the state of our mind.

*Asanga (ca. 300- 370 CE) was a brahmin from Peshawar, so certainly ritual purity was a matter of great importance to him before he left home.  He is considered the founder of the Buddhist approach called Yogachara, especially the branch known as Chittamatra or Consciousness-Only.

The Dog Yogi

Kukuripa [Tib. Shiwa Sangpo] (ca. 1000) was one of the Mahasiddhas (one of the 84 greatest yogis) and one of Tilopa's teachers.  He stayed not far from Pullahari in western Magadha, where he lived on an island "in a poison lake," surrounded by dogs.  One of the females reveals herself as a dakini, and she is instrumental in his Realization, for  

. . . he descended from paradise to rejoin her in the cave.

The dog leaped and pranced with joy when she caught sight of her beloved master. But no sooner did he sit down and begin to scratch her favorite spot, just behind the ears, than she vanished from sight! There before him, wreathed in a cloud of glory, stood a radiantly beautiful Dakini. 

~ Keith Dowman's Masters of Enchantment. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1988. [link is to newer edition] 

  • See Kukkuripa's white dog affectionately kissing his chin.
  • Kukuraja was a Buddhist of brahmin origins who practiced in a cave in the company of a dog.  In the legends of Guru Rinpoche, after some tantric scriptures landed on the palace roof, King Indrabodhi brought them to Kukuraja for interpretation. 

(Usually the two names are taken to refer to the same person, but perhaps they were not.) 

Kshitagarbha's Mother

The "Earthstore" bodhisattva, is often assimilated to Yama, the Lord of the Hell Realm.  He strives to help those who find themselves in the realm of great suffering, but he does not judge them.  Nevertheless, associated as he is with death, dogs appear in his depictions and in accounts associated with him 

In the Chinese tradition, he is frequently depicted accompanied by a dog which relates to his dedication to the welfare of his mother, even after her death. It is said that when he had learned that his mother had passed away, he immediately hastened to the hell realm with a view to comforting and seeking consideration for her there.  He never did find her there for she had already taken rebirth as a female dog.

His devotion to her was so great that upon his return to earth, he found out where she was and arranged to adopt her as his constant companion.

Compassionate Dogs

  • Oct. 4, 2004, BBC News (photos 1-9) Every evening, a "lurcher" freed other caged dogs so they could all raid the kitchen.  They would return to their quarters before the staff arrived in the morning. 
  • Read about Ginny, (1998-2005) the righteous dog, who rescued not only cats, but other animals too. 


According to Roger A. Caras (A Dog is Listening. NY:  Summit, 1991) archaeologists have found, at Ashkelon in today's Israel, a burial ground for over 750 dogs dating from 500-332 BCE, when the Persians ruled there.  Each animal is buried with care in its own grave, and over a third were no longer puppies when they died, apparently of a variety of causes.   One can only wonder at the role these animals once played.

Buddhists do not worship animals.  Hindus venerate them in their association with a particular deity, such as the owl (Uluka) associated with goddess Laxmi. 

In Nepal, "Every dog has its day" on Kukur Tihar ("Day of the Dog," the 2nd day of Diwali or Tihar)

Himalayan Dogs

The largest and best known of the Himalayan regions is Tibet, but Tibet is not the only Himalayan land.   Outside the realms of geography and political science, the word "Tibetan" is often used in this broadest sense. 

There is a proverb saying that happiness is being accompanied on one's travels by a dog.  Also, dogs are believed to be a superior type of animal possessing of a nature close to that of humans. Some gompas or monastic institutions keep and care for them in the belief that dogs are monks who could not maintain their commitments, so that continued contact with the Buddha's teachings is thought to help them in the future.

One lama is reported as saying that if someone disturbs you while you are at your practice, ask them not to do it again.  However, if a dog seems to want something, attend to its needs. ~ S. Simsova, Kagyu group at Yahoo! Aug. 2004. 

The great master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (d. 1899) in The Torch of Certainty says, "Once you have listened to a single brief discourse, If you lack respect for your guru, You will be born a dog a hundred times, And a butcher after that."

Following that logic, we would invite you to consider the moral consequence for one who thinks little of abandoning a dog, whose essential nature is not unlike that of humans. 

  •   Learn about the compassionate activity in Taiwan of photographer Youn Tou-Fei

Tibetan Dogs

Generally, the dogs of Tibet are not classed by Tibetans as being of a certain breed but rather by size and function.   Although the distinctive features of the various kinds are recognized, a dog is preferred according to how closely it resembles the ones believed to have accompanied the Buddha.  Those animals resembling lions are said to be rakshasas in disguise, who could regain their enormous size and ferocious character for the protection of the Master and the Dharma.

  • "Many unusual breeds found in Tibet ... " by Hon. Mrs. Eric Bailey (The American Kennel Gazette, vol. 54, no. 3, Mar. 1, 1937.  Louis de Casanova, ed.) 

  • M. Sundqvist's site (classifications in New Delhi, 1970.)

Tibetans living in the traditional manner did not traffic in dogs since they were held in such high esteem.  They only considered them fitting as gifts, and an especially fine dog might be given to a monastery or to an individual lama as a donation. 

Damchi ("tied dog") is the term for a guard dog.  Like any kind of dog, how they behave depends on how they are treated.  The dogs that are left loose to guard compounds and monasteries are often fierce.

Tibetan Mastiff

The Tibetan mastiff is a working dog resembling a Newfoundland, and it functions as a herder's assistant and as a caravan guardian.  On their travels during which they regularly come into contact with the dogs of villagers, they tend to interbreed with those, and so purebred mastiffs (as most of the other ancient Asian breeds) are quite rare.

Last of the Dokhyi or "Phyu-khi," the Tibetan Mastiff:

"Over a gradual period of two decades or so, Sikkim has lost the Tibetan Mastiff, a magnificent pure breed of dog belonging to the nomadic ‘Dokpas’ or Tibetan graziers in trans-Himalayan Sikkim. Lonely army personnel diluted the breed with mongrels brought up as pet pups from lower altitudes to the cold desert. On finishing their stint in this difficult region, usually over a year or two, they left leaving the dogs behind. These fed off the kitchen and mess wastes and multiplied over the years. They have now taken to roaming in packs on the plateau in Chho Lhamo, Lhonak and Lashar, hanging around army camps and the village of Thangu, preying upon wildlife and have even been seen swimming in the glacial lakes after Ruddy Shelduck chicks. Of late they have taken to preying upon domestic livestock of the Dokpas.

The pure breed of Tibetan mastiff has been reduced to one very old male at Thangu Monastery. All other dogs are now completely mongrelised.  In order to save or revive the breed it is possible to purchase pedigree stock perhaps from remote areas in Bhutan. The Dokpas are confident of training this master herder in the lost art of herding yak, sheep and goats on the Tibetan plateau accompanied by a slingshot bearing Dokpa"

In Bhutan, dogs are noted for being friendly although they tend to sleep all day and stay awake all night barking "to keep evil spirits at bay."  This night barking is still a notable characteristic of the Tibetan mastiff.

"He had become a very handsome dog, with glossy black hair, pendent triangular ears, short muzzle, high forehead, jet-black eyes, straight limbs, arched neck, and a most glorious tail curling over his back." ~ p. 102, Himalayan Journal, with note to see woodcut 'of his father' in Vol. 1, p. 203.

Tibetan Terrier

This breed has a long coat resembling that of the Hungarian Puli.

Tibetan Spaniel

Like the "TT" or Tibetan Terrier, which is not a terrier at all, the smaller, smooth-coated Tibetan Spaniel is not a spaniel.  

This is still a relatively rare animal that is possessed of unique qualities.  It may have originated in some beyul where its ancient characteristics were protected as a consequence of isolation.  Its place of origin might be somewhere in West Tibet, where there was less chance that these unique characteristics could be "eroded" by Chinese breeds like the popular Shi-tzu, or the Lhasa Apso that is prevalent in central Tibet.

Traders may have brought it to the Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, since contemporary oral tradition traces it there.  However, as that valley is a major trade route, it seems unlikely that it is the actual place of origin.  Some Westerners have referred to the breed, especially those with longer muzzles, as "Damci" (pron. damchi) but the east Tibetan expression does not actually refer to a particular breed but to any dog that is kept tied up, especially the large guard dogs..  

In Tibetan, the "spaniel" is called how-wa, which according to the dictionary of S. C. Das means "primitive dog" or "hill dog."  (Mrs. Bailey, in 1937, wrote "ha-pa.")  They are also called Ri-kyi or mountain dog.

  • HH Karmapa (Jan. 2003) holding a Tibetan Spaniel, photo. (Yahoo! Kagyu group, "photos" in files menu, items 13-23, "karmapa1")

  • Comparison of the older and newer breed standards for the "Tibbie."

Other Breeds

Shaggy, whiskered Lhasa Apsos ("capital city grand-dads," although Mrs. Bailey derives apso from rabso meaning goat -- reference to its long coarse hair) have been called "a cross between the lions that guard buddhas and some monkeys" but that description fits a number of small east Asian dogs.  The Pekingese dog (of Chinese heritage) was also favoured for its imagined resemblance to Buddha's lions, although today the Shi-tzu is preferred for its conformity to the long-maned "snow lion" type. 

The name, Shih-tzu originates from 1643, when the Manchu rulers of China received a few "lion dogs" from the Dalai Lama, and so dogs of this type have retained the designation, tzu meaning "of the master or, lama."  

Naming a Himalayan Dog

If you are thinking of choosing a Tibetan name for a dog, find out how the name is actually pronounced.  One web site decorated with incongruously arranged Tibetan syllables gives a long list of such names, but many are merely repetitions using different English spellings for the same expression. 

"Tashi" (auspicious one) is possibly the most popular name for a Tibetan dog.  "Yangchen" (melodious sound) is suitable for a dog that enjoys its own voice.  As in any cultural context, it would not be considered respectful to choose the names of venerated figures.

In Aboriginal America

At the time of the Walking of Creation, Gitchi-manitou sent Wolf to keep Original Man  company, but after that he ordered Original Man and Wolf to go their separate ways.
(The wolf and the Anishnabe (Ojibway or "Western Cree") are considered similar since both mate for life, have a clan and tribal system, have had their land taken, been hunted for their hair, been pushed almost to destruction and are now experiencing a time of recovery [at least in Canada.])  The dog was given as a substitute, but since it is a relative of the wolf it should be kept separate from contemporary people and away from sacred objects or rituals.  To do otherwise would endanger people's lives. 

~ Kevin L. Callahan, University of Minnesota.

White Dog

It was a custom of Iroquoian people to use a white dog as a sacrificial scapegoat, and white dogs have often been considered unlucky.  In the Treasury of Good Sayings, a Bon chronicle of Tibet, the coat of a white dog was dressed with a poisonous substance by a son of King Trikum's widowed queen called Rulakye.  When it went home to the Bon ruler, Lonam, who had held the throne for 13 years, he could not resist patting the dog and so he subsequently died.  

Famous Dogs

In Euro-American lands, there are a number of monuments to faithful dogs such as Robbie Burn's dog, Greyfriar's Bobby, a policeman's associate and in New France, Dollard des Ormeaux' dog, Pilote.  

  • Gander, the Newfoundland dog, mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada, was awarded a Dickin Medal ("the animal's Victoria Cross") for self-sacrifice during the 1941 futile defense of Hong Kong.

  • The intelligent and indomitable Balto, whose statue by F. G. Roth, graces NY's Central Park.

Fu Dogs

Bronze or ceramic guardian or temple dog figures are not really dogs at all, though they may be referred to as "Foo dogs" or "dogs of Fo (ie. Buddha.)"  They are an evolution of the lions that support Buddha Shakyamuni's throne.  

One Chinese eclipse myth tells how it is a celestial dog that continuously tries to swallow the sun, and the male of the pair of Fo dogs is usually shown playing with a splendid ball.

There is a relatively rare type of dog of the Spitz family that resembles a Chow.  It is called the Foo, and was bred to resemble the guardian lion or T'ien Kou [celestial] dog.   Also known as the "Sacred Dog of Sinkiang or "Chinese Choo Hunting Dog," it may derive its common name from the ancient city of Foochow. 

Dog Food

In Vietnam dogs were sacrificed to the indigenous gods in rituals intended to induce rain.  Dogs are eaten there during certain periods of the lunar year in the belief that this meat contributes to virility and longevity.  

Dog Wars

The evening of July 19, 2001, the day before the decision by the IOC to award the 2008 Olympic Games, when Beijing was considered first choice (versus Paris and Toronto) despite its abysmal human rights' record that includes the increased use of the death penalty, the kidnap and torture of dissidents, and the rape and pillage of the land of Tibet, one American news network ran a story about dogs.  

It featured the importation, breeding and care of Swiss St. Bernard dogs with a view to their use as an efficient source of protein for the masses.  A Shenyong facility was featured but the report said that there are 20 such experimental farms in China.  It seems that introducing a St. Bernard into a line of mongrels can increase the average size of dogs by 50%.  Dog meat, which we saw hanging, sold in the market and served in restaurants, is high priced and is considered a delicacy.  However, the objective of the program is to use it for food more extensively.  

The man whose job it is to prepare their feed and generally care for them admitted that he did not think he could bring himself to eat them.  

" . . . but Weilin hopes that his venture will make dog meat an even more popular commodity for the Chinese dinner table."

Though any compassionate person might agree that the government of the PRC did not deserve to benefit from the allocation of any celebration of international brother and sisterhood, this manipulation of our political consciousness by activating the switch called "Happiness is a warm puppy" [ popular book by Snoopy's creator, Charles M. Schulz, 1987] was startling in its blatancy -- right up there with the dog on the sampan in the film, Apocalypse Now.

China: Plans for a Dog Meat Factory Near Beijing, article #6 from an archive at U. of Guelph, Ontario, also provides context: 

"Sensitive to its international image, South Korea closed thousands of restaurants during the 1980s, prohibiting the sale of foods deemed unsightly. Legal challenges to the ban met with some success however, and in 1997 Cho Yong-Sop opened the first of what he planned as a chain of dog meat restaurants in Seoul.  While it remains an unpopular habit in terms of international relations, in Southeast Asia dog meat is big business. "

The throwaway pet culture results in huge numbers of stray dogs.  This necessitates the WSPA to warn breeders against exporting pedigree dogs to areas where they become delicacies.

The Chinese media may have started the puppy media wars.  A translation of a Chinese newspaper article of Mar. 16, 2001:

"Since last year, cases of urban violence increase steadily and some suburbs are getting very dirty. In addition, vagrant dogs and rabid dogs are more and more numerous, and if this pest is not controlled, it could threaten the organisation of the Olympic Games.  A French friend told me that dogs' feces are everywhere in the street of Paris and that it is difficult to welcome the Olympic Games in such conditions." 

  • Great Leap Forward continued in PRChina in the Year of the Dog (2006):  Canadian media (Canoe web site) reported on Aug. 1/06 that, with 3 cases of rabies reported, in one city 50,000 dogs were beaten to death.


Perhaps because they lick their wounds which generally heal fairly quickly, dogs are associated with the healing process.

In Greece and Rome dogs were considered messengers of the gods, and it was thought that they could smell out diseases.  Special healing dogs -- cynotherapists -- were kept in temples to comfort the sick and dying, and to licked their wounds which sometimes caused a miraculous recovery.  Their divine patron was Hermanubis [Hermes + Anubis] with the head of a dog on the body of a man.  

~ Mary Elizabeth Thurston. The Lost History of the Canine Race: Our 15,000-Year Love Affair With the Dog. 1996. 

Nature (PBS tv Sept. 2008) shows a Mexican lady stricken with arthritis using the very warm chola puppies to soothe the aches of her painful joints. 

A great-great-grandfather of Tibetan yogi, Milarepa was Khyungpo Josay, a famous Nyingmapa able to heal people using dog fat.

Oprah Lore

There are a few contemporary anecdotes that substantiate the therapeutic ability of the dog.  One relates how the pet of a woman with an unusual growth on her leg used to sniff at it and bark.  This behavior impelled her to consult a doctor who discovered that the growth was a particularly virulent skin cancer.  The dog probably saved her life.

Another dog, a yellow Labrador called Mia, sniffed and pawed at her mistress' chest with some regularity.  When the dog finally leaped at her with full force behind her paws, the woman felt quite a pain and went for tests.  Her life was probably saved as a result of the subsequent surgery and treatment for the virulent cancer that was discovered there.   Oprah, of course.

Roger Carras (A Dog is Listening: The Way Some of Our Closest Friends View Us. NY: Summit, 1992.) video recorded the behaviour of a small mixed breed dog named Sheba as she "predicted" Angie's epileptic seizures and then physically coaxed her into a spot in the room where she would not hurt herself. 

We have seen that dogs are associated with death, often in the role of the guardian of the Underworld or Land of the Dead, eg. Cerberus, the many-headed hound of Classical mythology.  This association is an actual one.  As scavengers, packs of them performed an essential function on fields of battle.  Yet, perhaps by a kind of hermaneutic transformation, they are equally associated with life, fertility and longevity.


There could be nothing more miserable or lowly than a cur (>cu is Gaelic for hound.  Kuk or kuch means dog or hound in many languages) except perhaps a tooth from its corpse!  

Cuon is the Greek for dog (cf. cu as in the name of the Irish hero, Cuchullain) and the term was selected by taxonomists (Cuon alpinus) to designate the dhole, a wild animal sometimes classed as a Canid and sometimes not, that lives in mountainous regions in India and other parts of Asia.

Since mongrel is a disparaging term for a dog of mixed parentage, (today we say "random bred") a "mongrelization" is not something to be proud of.  The term is usually used for an overly simplified and corrupted version of literature.  

Tyke is another such expression.  The negative connotation was present in America until about 30 years ago but seems to have disappeared when we spell it, tike, which refers to a little child.

And then there's a mutt, from mutton; in other words, a stupid dog with the intellect of a sheep.

The contrast in connotation of whelp [random product of a mindless breeding] and puppy [cute baby dog] reflect our ambivalence, but now consider the word dogged [unflagging, determined persistence.]


Dog Days of Summer:  In the six weeks after the solstice, the Dog Star, Sirius, appears in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere.  It was once thought that this bright star contributed to the heat characteristic of the beginning of August.

There are numerous expressions in the English language that refer to the miserable existence of canines.  We say someone is dog tired; he died like a dog; their relationship is going to the dogs; she was once a beauty, but now she looks like a dog’s breakfast; the business world is dog eat dog. 


New findings show that the dog was domesticated from the Asian wolf earlier than had been thought -- perhaps before 20,000 BCE.  Physical evidence indicates it is the first of the animals to be domesticated by humans.  The remains of the 'Star Carr' dog found in Yorkshire, England date to 7500 BCE and still clearly show wolf ancestry.

A most amazing trick was accomplished indeed when people transformed the sheep-eater into the sheep's nanny.

  • Livestock Guardians, AKC 1995.

  • Read about the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) also called the Cape Hunting Dog.  With ears like satellite dishes, it is a very social canine that maintains injured pack members rather than killing them as hyenas would. Its success at hunting is 85% compared to the lion who only manages to catch less than 20% of its prey. 

  • pre-Indian bronze dog (Indonesia, c. 100 BCE) with harness.

The Boy Who Lived with Dogs 

Wed., June 20, 2001, Santiago, Chile (Reuters) -- An abandoned 10-year-old boy found living in a cave and scavenging for food with a pack of dogs became so thirsty that he forced himself to drink a bitch's milk, child-care workers said on Tuesday.

Authorities took the boy, named Axel, into care last weekend after he spent two years roaming a southern town with the dog pack.

The case has shocked Chile, a conservative South American nation that prides itself on strong family ties.

Axel began running with 15 strays in the port town of Talcahuano after escaping from a children's home. On cold nights, they would share a cave on the outskirts of town, workers of Chile's National Child-care Service said.

In television footage, Axel was aggressive, swore at care workers and spoke in short, surly phrases.

Asked whether he had drunk dog's milk as reported by police, he said, "Yes." He stuck his tongue out and screwed up his face up in disgust.

"You still drank it even though you didn't like it?" a journalist asked the boy, now living in a children's center in the city of Concepcion.

"Yes, because I was thirsty. It was my breakfast," Axel replied.

Mother Dog "Lyla"

Wearing a smart red, white and gray top, he scribbled on pieces of paper and cut out pictures with scissors. One of his drawings was of eight dogs of different colors and sizes.

The most prominent figure was a large blue dog that resembled a poodle. Underneath, was written the name "Lyla." A care worker said this was the dog that suckled Axel.

"That dog was pregnant," the boy said.

Axel, who appeared healthy but had two front teeth missing, at times swore at the woman care worker and threatened to throw scissors across the room. But he also showed touches of tenderness.

He cut out a picture from a sheet of paper and tried to pin it to the lapel of a television journalist.

Axel has had a tough life, child-care workers said.

"He was abandoned at the age of five by his parents, who were very abusive. He was effectively thrown onto the streets," Delia Delgatto of the child-care service told Reuters.

He was taken into a care center but escaped two years ago and teamed up with street dogs in Talcahuano.

The boy and the pack foraged for food together, police said. "He would eat out of garbage cans and find leftovers," Delgatto said.

City workers reported his case to the police who tried to seize him last Saturday. But Axel threw himself into the wintry cold waters of the southern Pacific Ocean to try to escape.

"A police officer dived into the water and saved him," a police spokesman said.

Care workers said Axel would need long periods of counseling and would stay in care for the foreseeable future.  Delgatto said it was unlikely he would be reunited with his parents.

Did you know . . .  ?

  •  Many human foods can harm or even kill a dog

Just a few grapes or raisins can harm a dog. 

Macadamia nuts are even more dangerous, as are greenish potatoes or tomatoes and other similar solacaea. 

Mushrooms can be harmful, too, so a slice of pizza is a very bad idea -- there could be more than one dangerous thing on it. 

Caffeine (the active ingredient in coffee, tea, cola and many so-called sports drinks) can also harm a dog.

Avocados are sufficiently harmful to cause death. 

Chocolate is very dangerous, too, for fatal kidney failure can result if it is ingested. 

Onions and similar bulbs especially garlic should be avoided, despite the fact that pet food manufacturers seem not to care and many products include it.  Fatal haemolytic anemia can result.  

Xylitol, a sweetener derived from the sap of the birch tree* and found in chewing gum, baked goods and oral health products, can kill a dog within 15 minutes of ingestion.  *A whole line of soft drinks is being sold under the Birch Tree label -- do not share them with your dog. 

  • Female dog urine contains higher concentrations of salts such as urea, ammonia and potassium than that of the males.  This kills the grass or causes stains similar to fertilizer burn.  You can train your dog to use a specific area of the lawn to relieve itself or follow her with a watering can and dilute the spot she picks by drenching it. 

  • Alaskan scientists have found a way to convert dog manure for use in flower gardens (not for use with food crops because of risk of disease.)  They say to use 2 parts poo + 1 part sawdust, rotate in a drum regularly, and keep at 145 degrees F.

  • In the far North, dog hair is spun and woven.  But did you know people in warmer climates do the same?  See cloth with red dog-hair squares from northeastern India. 


Spaniel:  Word meaning "Spanish"  ie. from Espana or Spain, the country where the breeding of pet animals was a specialty.  By about the 15th century, the Spaniards had developed 400 breeds of rabbit, for example. A breed is a genetic lineage in which the parents invariably produce offspring that resemble themselves, at least in discernible ways.   The spaniel is a medium-to-small dog of generally placid temperament that is characterized by a smooth silky coat, soulful expression and droopy ears.  The style used to be to dock [cut very short] the tail.  A spaniel is often especially devoted to one person.

Tibetan names: Tibetan orthography [way of spelling] uses many kinds of unpronounced letters to distinguish between one meaning and another.  Also, there are a number of different systems in use for transliterating into European languages such as English.  Try to find out how to say the name correctly, otherwise you might be saying something rude or nonsensical.

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