Dogs In Religion

“Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal... In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.

Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away for two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh--not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.”

― Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings

Ancient Egypt

JackalDog01When we think of the animals that the Egyptians loved the most, we tend to think of cats. The beautiful sleek lines of a persian type cat sitting imperiously and surveying the Egyptian people. The carved body of the Sphinx, with the body of a cat and the head of a Pharoah.

Dogs were also very highly regarded in Egyptian religion, and one of the most well known Gods, Anubis was a dog-like creature. Some Egyptologists believe him to be a Jackal, whereas others point to the translation of inscriptions which describe that Anubis had a “face like a dog”. Whether he had the face of a dog, or was a jackal isn’t hugely important, because all dogs, foxes, wolves and other similar canids were all under his watchful gaze.

In one discovery, an entire cave was found to be full of canid bones, from dogs, foxes, wolves and jackals. There are thought to be millions of animal bones in the caves in the Anubieion catacombs at Saqqara.

A Mummified Dog from Ancient Egypt.
A Mummified Dog from Ancient Egypt.  The care shown in preserving this dog shows how they were revered.

In Egyptian lore, dogs were thought to be very important in guiding the dead into the afterlife. Anubis himself was the lord of the underworld, and he would be responsible for embalming and the preparation of the dead, as well as guiding them into the next life. It is possible that the Anicient Egyptians associated Anubis with the dead, as Jackals would often have been seen roaming graveyards and other sites where carrion would be found.

This idea that dogs were a guide into the next world isn’t just an idea the Egyptians had, there are many other cultures and religions that also believed in the guiding spirits of their dogs.

Like in many other cultures, dogs were important, and required respectful treatment even after death. Dogs were mummified, buried with their owners and sometimes even laid to rest in their own coffins.

Images of dogs have often been found on wall decorations and decorative objects. According to Egypotologists, the eariest representation of a domestic dog can be found on the Moscow cup, which dates from around 4,500 BC. There are many examples of dogs depicted wearing collars from 3500 BC.

EgyptianDog01The anicient Egyptians also used a illiterative word for dog - “iwiw”, which was supposed to represent their bark. In Ancient Egypt, dogs were used in all sorts of ways; not just as pets, but hunting dogs and guard dogs. They were also used as part of the military and police.

It seems unbelieveable, but even the names of dogs have survived through the years - names such as Brave One, Good Herdsman, Reliable and even the name Useless have been found on leather collars and inscriptions. Other names are as familiar as the ones we use today derived from their colour, such as Blackie.

So while the cat gods of Anicent Egypt hog all the limelight, dogs had a hugely important role in guiding Anicent Egyptians into the afterlife.


One such religion that believes there’s a significant role for a dog to play regarding the afterlife is Zoroastrianism. In the Zoroastriian scriptures, the Chinwat Bridge to Heaven is guarded by dogs. Often, dogs are fed in commemoration to the dead.

The Venidad, which is a part of the Zoroastrian holy book Avesta, has detailed instructions over the care of dogs, and also outlines the, in some cases severe, punishments for those to injure or harm a dog.

Zoroastrianism believes that dogs are a regarded a righteous creature, which must be fed and taken care of. They are not only seen as having spritual significance, but are appreciated for their role within families.

In Zoroastrianism, even a dog's gaze has a significant power; it is said that a dog’s gaze is purifying and can keep demons away.

It was believed that a person should treat a dog in exactly the same way they should a man, and if they did harm to a dog, they should be punished in the same way they would have been punished for doing harm to a person. In fact, the act of killing a dog was considered to lead to damnation in the afterlife.

NursingPups01They believed that if a pregnant bitch laid near your house, it was your responsibility to look after the mother until she had given birth to those pups, and the pups are ready to fend for themselves. If the householder did not look after the pregnant bitch and puppies, then they would be punished in the same way as if they’d caused harm to a pregnant woman.

Even the careful feeding of a dog was important, and the penalties for causing harm by feeding the wrong food was severe. Feeding a dog food that was too hot, or bones that could get stuck in it’s throat were serious offences.

Guarding the way to Heaven was not the only service that dogs provided in death. There is a funeral ceremony called “Sagdid” (or Dog Sight), in which a dog is brought into the room where the body is lying so that the dog may look upon the body. It’s believed that a dog will notice is the person is still alive, as it’s senses are much more acute than that of a human. It is believed that a four-eyed dog, is preferred during “Sagdid”. Rather than meaning a dog with four eyes literally, it means a dog who has two dots above it’s eyes, giving it the impression of four eyes.


Hindu02Sarama is the female dog of the Gods in Hinduism, and is described as “the mother of all dogs”. The male dog, Shvan is the mount of the Hindu god Bhairava.

The significance of dogs is an important one in Hinduism, and as part of the five-day festival of Tihar, dogs are worshipped by applying tika (the holy vermillion dot) on their forehead, and using marigold flowers as garlands.

As a familiar theme to other religions, Hindus believe that dogs guard the doors of Heaven and Hell.

Cultures Of Mesoamerica

Many cultures throughout Southern America, and especially areas in Mexico also believed that dogs were a guide to the afterlife.

The Maya

SleepingDog01Mayans are another culture who also believed that dogs were a guide to the afterlife. In the remains of the Mayan city of Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala, a dog was found together with the skeleton of a sitting human, alongside grave goods. There are many other examples of Mayan burials which suggests a spiritual link between dogs, and crossing over to the underworld.

In some classic Mayan depictions, dogs are shown as carrying a torch, which is believed to represent the belief that it was the dog which brought man the gift of fire.

The Aztecs

In Aztec mythology, it was believed that a great flood caused the Fourth Sun to vanish. Inside a log, a single man, and a single woman survived. They built a fire, and cooked fish upon it - the smoke from the fire angered the stars Citlallatonac and Citlalicue, which sent the great god Tezcatlipoca into a rage. In his fury, he severed the heads of the man and the woman, and stitched then onto their rears - apparently creating the first dogs.

In Aztec culture, dogs were also linked to the afterlife. Xolotl was the God of death, and the canine companion of the Sun.

The Jakalteks

In a story similar in flavour to the Aztec one, a Jakaltek tale from the Guatemalan Highlands recounts the creation story. In the story of creation, the first dog sees the creation of the world, and runs everywhere spilling the secrets of creation to anyone who will listen. Hunab-Kuh (the Creator) was enraged, and as punishment swaps the dog’s head for it’s tail. So, anytime a dog wishes to tell any secrets, all it can do is wag it’s tail.

Chinatecs And Mixes of Oaxaca

Chinantecs and Mixes of Oaxaca also believe that dogs have an important role to play in getting to the underworld. They believe that a black dog will help the newly dead to cross a body of water, either a river or a sea, to the land of the dead.

Modern Thoughts

It seems, rather like the general thoughts on animals, that the more modern we get, opinions change. A lot of modern, mainstream religions believe the dog is a dirty or ‘unclean’ animal. There are references to dogs not having souls. There are religions who don’t see ‘Heaven’ as having room for dogs.

Certainly our idea of Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven without our canine friends waiting to see us.

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