Dogs have long been popular tattoo symbols, and are often featured as memorials to beloved family pets. The dog is a powerful symbol of loyalty, vigilance, and intelligence, the modern Dog is descended from the Asiatic Wolf, and the first animal to be domesticated. Our relationships with dogs goes back over 40,000 years! Recent genetic research suggests that the first true Dog showed up in China about 15,000 years ago. There, the Dog is the 11th sign of the Zodiac and represents symbols both positive and negative. Although not common as a household pet in China, emperors and their tombs had the ‘Foo dog’ as guardian – although the ‘Foo Dog’ is actually a lion and not a dog at all!
In some ancient civilizations the Dog was a symbol of the underworld. In Aztec mythology, the Red Dog led the recently departed across the Great River and through the afterworld. In Egypt, the guardian of the dead was Anubis, the dog-headed god, the jackal, always portrayed as black. Actually, it was the symbol of both death and regeneration.
The qualities of the Dog were considered fitting for a guardian, and for the protector of souls entering the Underworld. The Dog’s popularity as a guide into the next life or into the unconscious, may be due to its ability see well in the dark, making it a symbol of instinctive knowledge. In addition, wolves and wild dogs often hunted at night or in the dim light of dusk and dawn.
It was Anubis who judged whether or not a soul would become a star. The Greeks and Romans were said to associate Anubis with the star Sirius – or Dog Star. North American Indians also saw the star Sirius as the Dog Star in a constellation where the Dog was interpreted as hunter.
In ancient Mexico, a Dog was buried along with a human sacrifice to act as guide to the hereafter. In ancient Scottish legend there is the Green Dog of the faerie world who was believed to drive nursing mothers into the hills to provide milk for the fairy creatures living there.
Today, the Dog is the beloved companion and friend to its owner. Fidelity, loyalty, and affection are but a few of the gifts it bestows on its appreciative owner. It gives both protection and guidance and can be trained so successfully that the Dog is used on rescue missions by the military, the police, and mountain guides. With its highly developed sense of smell, it can hunt and retrieve, and has never been a welcome sight to a smuggler. Whether a working or sporting dog or a lap-sized companion, dogs fill every niche in our lives.
In most parts of the world, the Dog remains Mankind’s ‘best friend’, although in some cultures it is considered unclean. Regardless, man’s long love affair with our canine companions continues and the American Kennel Club recognizes over 150 distinct breeds of dogs. With mixed breeds thrown into the mix, the total number of dog types is anywhere from over two hundred to as many as 400 around the world. That is a lot of different dog tattoos!
Get inspired by some great images and tattoos in our Dog Tattoo Gallery