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Dogs in religion

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Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), which are mankind's first and most common domestic animals, have played a role in many religious traditions.



Bhairava with his dog.

Dogs have a major religious significance among the Hindus in Nepal and some parts of India. The dogs are worshipped as a part of a five-day Tihar festival that falls roughly in November every year. In Hinduism, it is believed that the dog is a messenger of Yama, the god of death, and dogs guard the doors of Heaven.This is a day when the dog is worshipped by applying tika (the holy vermilion dot), incense sticks and garlanded generally with marigold flower.

The dog is also the vahana or mount of the Hindu god Bhairava.

Ancient Egyptian religion

The Ancient Egyptians are often more associated with cats in the form of Bastet, yet here too dogs are found to have a sacred role and figure as an important symbol in religious iconography.[1] At the cemetery at Abydos a portion was reserved for dogs, near the graves of women, archers and dwarves.[2]

Dogs were associated with Anubis, the jackal headed god of the underworld. At times throughout its period of being in use the Anubieion catacombs at Saqqara saw the burial of dogs.[3]


There is a temple in Isin (located in Mesopotamia) that is named é-ur-gi7-ra which translates to mean “dog house” [4] Enlilbani, a king from the Old Babylonian First Dynasty of Isin, commemorated the temple to the goddess Ninisina. [5]. Although there is a small amount of detail known about it, there is enough information to confirm that a dog cult did exist in this area [6]. Usually, dogs were only associated with the Gula cult, but there is some information, like Enlilbani’s commemoration, to suggest that dogs were also important to the cult of Ninisina, as Gula was another goddess who was closely associated to Ninisina. [7] More than 30 dog burials, numerous dog sculptures, and dog drawings were discovered when the area around this Ninisina temple was excavated . In the Gula cult, the dog was used in oaths and was sometimes referred to as a divinity.

Chinese tradition

The dog is one of the 12 animals honored in Chinese astrology. The second day of the Chinese New Year is considered to be the birthday of all dogs and Chinese people often take care to be kind to dogs on that day.


In Zoroastrianism sagdid is a funeral ceremony in which a dog is brought into the room where the body is lying so that it can look on it. “Sagdid” means “dog sight” in the Avestan language in which the Zoroastrian scriptures are written. There are various spiritual benefits thought to be obtained by the ceremony. It is believed that the original purpose was to make certain that the person was really dead, since the dog’s more acute senses would be able to detect signs of life that a human might miss. A “four-eyed” dog, that is one with two spots on its forehead, is preferred for sagdid. [8][9]


St Rochus

Statue of Saint Roch with his dog, in Prague, Czech Republic

A dog is mentioned in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, faithfully accompanying Tobias, Tobit's son and the angel Raphael on their journeys.

Jesus told the story of the poor man Lazarus, whose sores were licked by street dogs. This has traditionally been seen as showing Lazarus's wretched situation. However, some modern commentators have pointed out that the dogs' saliva, which contains lysozyme (an enzyme with antibacterial qualities), could have beneficial effects on the sores.[10][11]

The Catholic Church recognizes Saint Roch (also called Saint Rocco), who lived in the early 1300s in France, as the patron saint of dogs. It is said that he caught the black plague while doing charitable work and went into the forest, expecting to die. There he was befriended by a dog which licked his sores and brought him food, and he was able to recover. The feast day of Saint Roch, August 16, is celebrated in Bolivia as the "birthday of all dogs."[12]

Saint Guinefort was the name given to a dog who received local veneration as a saint at a French shrine from the thirteenth to the twentieth centuries.[13]

A black and white dog is sometimes used as an informal symbol of the Dominican order of friars, religious sisters and nuns. This stems from a Latin pun: though the order's name is actually the Friars Preachers (Ordus Praedicatorum - order of preachers), it is generally called the Dominicans (after St. Dominic, their founder): Domini canes in Latin means "the dogs/hounds of the Lord."


See also Islam and animals

Islamic tradition considers dogs to be unclean and most Muslims do not keep pet dogs. There are a number of traditions concerning Muhammad's attitude towards dogs. He said that the company of dogs, except as helpers in hunting, herding, and home protection, voided a portion of a Muslim's good deeds. On the other hand, he advocated kindness to dogs and other animals.

Another source that supports the kind treatment of dogs in Islam is seen with the narration by Abu Huraira Volume 3, Book 40, Number 551. [14] He narrated that the Prophet said, "While a man was walking he felt thirsty and went down a well, and drank water from it. On coming out of it, he saw a dog panting and eating mud because of excessive thirst. The man said, 'This (dog) is suffering from the same problem as that of mine.' So, he (went down the well), filled his shoe with water, caught hold of it with his teeth and climbed up and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for his (good) deed and forgave him. The people asked ``O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving (the) animals? He replied: ``Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being). [15]

Additionally many Muslim theologians have argued that the dog is not an unclean animal based on the inclusion of a dog among the Seven Sleepers as recorded in the 18th verse of the 18th chapter of the Qur'an, [16] which reads:

Thou wouldst have deemed them awake, whilst they were asleep, and We turned them on their right and on their left sides: their dog stretching forth his two fore-legs on the threshold: if thou hadst come up on to them, thou wouldst have certainly turned back from them in flight, and wouldst certainly have been filled with terror of them. .
(Surah Al Kahf, Qur'an: 18)

Atheism and criticism of religion

In an article in the New York Times Magazine atheist Natalie Angier quoted Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University:

"I've argued that many of what philosophers call moral sentiments can be seen in other species. In chimpanzees and other animals, you see examples of sympathy, empathy, reciprocity, a willingness to follow social rules. Dogs are a good example of a species that have and obey social rules; that's why we like them so much, even though they're large carnivores."[17]
Landseer Saved

A Newfoundland, the breed Byron eulogized, painted by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1802–1873

In 1808 the English poet Lord Byron expressed similar thoughts in his famous poem Epitaph to a Dog:

But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.[18]


  1. [1]
  2. Egypt: The Dogs of Ancient Egypt
  3. [2]
  4. Livingstone, A (1988). "The Isin “Dog House” Revisited", Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 40(1), p54
  5. Shaffer, Aaron (1974). "Enlilbaniand the ‘DogHouse’ in Isin", Journal of Cuneifrom Studies, 26(4) p. 251-252)
  6. Livingstone ibid, 1988, p. 58
  7. Shaffer, Aaron (1974) Ibid, p. 253
  8. Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, 1928, The Funeral Ceremonies of the Parsees, Anthropological Society of Bombay
  9. The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research, by Solomon Alexander Nigosian, Published by McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 1993, ISBN 077351144X, 9780773511446 page 102 (page can be viewed via Google books)
  10. Kilcommons, B. and Cappuzo, M. 1996, Mutts: America's Dogs, New York:Warner Books.
  11. Does dog's saliva contain germs?,,, retrieved 2007-12-01 
  12. "Saint Roch"
  13. Stephen de Bourbon (d. 1262): De Supersticione
  14. Compendium of Muslim Texts - Abu Huraira, Volume 3, Book 40, Number 551
  15. Compendium of Muslim Texts - Abu Huraira, Volume 3, Book 40, Number 551
  16. Surah Al Kahf (The Cave)
  17. "Confessions of a Lonely Atheist"
  18. Epitaph To a Dog
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Dogs in religion. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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