Dogs can be found on every continent and wherever humans are found. Dogs are pack animals and share 97% of their genes with wolves and coyotes. This means that they can breed with each other. Dogs were most likely the first animals to be domesticated, however, some archaeologists claim that wolves helped to hurry man’s transition to village life. Wolves often hung around men as scavengers. But with the wolf pack there to raise the alarm if danger was near, women could stay alone at the camp. Women often picked individual wolves that they trusted most and raised them.
Mayans had domesticated dogs that were very important to their culture. Their dogs were oftentimes used as offerings to the gods. Many Native American tribes put dogs in places of honor. Dogs are symbols of protective powers and loyalty, so the Cheyenne tribe had a group of warriors called dog-soldiers who were in charge of protecting and guarding the village. They were essentially watchdogs of the tribe and territory. Homer writes about dogs’ protective properties as early as the Iliad, in which Cerberus, the giant three-headed dog guards the entrance to the Underworld. For the Celts, dogs also represented friendship and protection. The great Irish hero Cuchulainn was called the Hound of Ulster. Dogs were also seen as guardians of ancient secrets, treasure, and knowledge.
Although we call dogs “man’s best friend,” it was usually the women who raised them. In some Native American tribes, the women would pick a dog based on its gentleness, raise it, and train it to carry firewood on a type of sled.
Different dogs mean different things. How dogs behave can say a lot about their message and meaning to us. Ted Andrews writes about his dog, normally a loner, who suddenly becomes very friendly and wants to play. This points out to him that he needs to take some time off to play and relax.
Dogs are symbols of steadfastness, faith, motherhood (because they are caring and nurturing parents), and associated with the charity worker, philanthropist, nurse, counselor, minister, and soldier. Above all, dogs are universally seen as symbols of love and faithfulness.
Information from Ted Andrews's Animal-Speak, Jessica Dawn Palmer's Animal Wisdom, and Steven D. Farmer's Power Animals.