Man’s relationship with the dog has been an integral part of the evolution of both. Dogs offer their masters unconditional emotional support and love and possess the uncanny ability to reunite with their masters and homes from thousands of miles away. Dogs have infiltrated our culture, inhabited our imaginations and appear as totems in our dreams.
The story of the first incident of the domestication of the dog was when a certain dog, after following the hunter all day, followed him home. When the dog barked, it notified the owner that a man or beast approached, but when the dog howled, it was believed that spirits were near. The arrival of the watchdog allowed the entire tribe to sleep without the use of watchmen who were posted to alarm the tribe of some impending danger. As civilization advanced, it then became the custom to employ watchdogs to protect the home against spirits as well as material enemies. Even today, some still believe that a dog’s howling at night foreshadows a death. Dogs were considered natural rescuers and seem to gravitate to those who are in emotional or physical distress.
Dogs are often cited in stories of the past. Cerberus, the three headed dog of Greek mythology, was believed to guard the gate to the underworld. In the ancient Hindu text, the Mahabharata, there is a story about the king goes to the other world and is refused entrance because he has his dog with him. The gatekeeper says, “You have passed the test because anybody who would enter without their dog is not worthy. Come in, come in, you’ve been faithful to the end and so has your dog. Your dog is a living example of the dharma, the way of truth. He has been with you always, come in, come in” and the great king and his dog entered paradise.
Although references to the dog in the Bible are totally unflattering and misguided, this noble “beast” is mentioned positively in a few stories. There’s the story of Amos, the Kheresa lunatic, who had exhibited signs of being possessed by some form of evil, Jesus took Amos by the hand and lifting him up said, “Amos, you are not possessed of a devil; you have already heard the good news that you are a son of God. I command you to come out of this spell.” Amos immediately experienced a transformation in his intellect and he was immediately restored to his right mind and the normal control of his emotions. This popular story goes on to suggest that the evil spirits were somehow driven into a nearby, unattended herd of about 30 swine. As the swine herders rushed into the village to spread the news of the taming of the lunatic, it was the dogs who charged the herd and drove them off of the cliff into the sea.
Again, on one occasion, Jesus and a devotee named Ganid had both enjoyed playing with a very intelligent shepherd dog and it inspired Ganid to ask the Master whether the dog had a soul and whether it had a will. Jesus responded, “The dog has a mind which can know material man, his master, but cannot know God, who is spirit; therefore the dog does not possess a spiritual nature and cannot enjoy a spiritual experience.”
However, the fact that the dog may not have the capacity for true spiritual development does in no way diminish their value as guardians, companions and guides because of their simplicity and the naturalness of their being. They seem to be closer to nature than humans and thus seem to be on a continuum with the natural flow of things. With dogs, words and theologies are not necessary. You can run and play and dance with them and you can also enter into profound silence and they are right there with you, in health and illness as co-partners, witnesses and deep friends on our spiritual journey.
Since ancient times, dogs have always been the guides through our darkness; guides to our greater journey. Some believe that the dog is actually 20 times its visible size on a subtle level and that may be what keeps evil spirits away. It is also believed that the dog is the only animal on the planet that has a direct connection to God as exemplified in its total service to its master, since service to humanity is the message of Christ.
More than any other animal on the planet, the canine has been the most closely associated animal to humans. Over the centuries, they have played important roles in our society. They are our mentors, companions, partners in work and play as well as our teachers. Even the Dalai Lama says, “Animals take us to our spiritual depths.” Spiritually speaking, the tendency to bow down before power and to prostrate oneself in worshipful adoration may be foreshadowed in the fawning of the dog before its master.
In the eyes of the dog, the master is everything. There is the saying, “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am” and, after all, “dog” is “God” spelled backwards.