Israelites and Their Dogs

  • While dogs were generally popular in the region, the Israelites seem to have started bringing dogs into their families somewhat later than their neighbors. They don’t get a favorable depiction in the Hebrew Bible. The Talmud even claims that dog barking can cause miscarriages. 
  • The people of the region did not always feel this way.  A twelve thousand year old grave contains an old man buried with a puppy.  
  • Canaan Dogs: These dogs were used as guard dogs, generally the only accepted use of dogs within the culture.  The dogs eventually returned to the wild and became pariah dogs. During World War II, a cynologist (canine scientist) named Dr. Rudolphina Menzel began the process of re-domesticating the pariah dogs to serve as military dogs. 

Egyptians and Their Dogs

  • Egyptians valued dogs highly. Outside of ritual sacrifice, killing dogs was a serious crime, even a capital one.  
  • The death of a dog caused the whole house to go into the same type of mourning you would observe for a human family member. Fortunately, they believed they would be reunited with their canine companions in the afterlife. 
  • We know some of their dog names, thanks to stelae: Blacky, Fifth, Brave One, Useless, North-Wind, Antelope, Reliable, and Good Herdsman, to name a few. 
  • The Egyptians used collars made of velvet, leather, or silk. Sometimes leather collars were stamped with scenes from the dog’s life. 

Breeds with Historical Ties to Egypt

  • Basenji (originated in Central Africa, 6000 BCE)* They likely came to Egypt through Nubia and are depicted on funeral stele as far back as 2112-2063 BCE. They may have been the inspiration for images of the god Anubis. 
  • Greyhound: They originated either in Egypt or Mesopotamia and can be seen in images dating back to 4250 BCE in Egypt. They were used as hunting and war dogs.  
  • Ibizan: These were the most common dogs in Egypt and Phoenician traders carried them to the island Ibiza where they got their name. 
  • Whippets: Greyhounds bred with pariah dogs (feral mutts) resulted in the whippet, a popular dog for Egyptian kings who wanted a faster, smaller hunting dog. 
    Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

    Dogs in Ancient Mesopotamia

    • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Inanna traveled with seven collared and leashed dogs.  When she travels to the Underworld in The Descent of Inanna, her husband remained home with his royal retinue, which included dogs. 
    • As in other regions, the dogs of Mesopotamia often wore blinged out collars depending on their owner’s wealth. The people of Mesopotamia buried dog-shaped amulets under the floors for spiritual protection. 
    • Saluki (329 BCE)* The Mesopotamians bred the Saluki first, but it became quite popular in ancient Egypt as well. They were hunting dogs and companions in both regions.
      Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

      So what’s your ideal breed? Your furry friend may be as close as your local shelter, but may have a history that is thousands of years old!

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