Is there an animal more closely linked with humankind than the dog? Our histories are so intertwined that dogs are often portrayed with human characteristics, hence the lasting power of the “man’s best friend” cliché. Legendary animals like the heroic movie-star Rin Tin Tin or Laika, the Russian pooch who became the first animal to orbit the earth, have cemented their iconic status in our minds.

Images of dogs appeared in artwork as long as 6,000 years ago, though archaeological evidence suggests the animals were part of human society long before. The Egyptian guardian of the deceased, Anubis, was often depicted on funerary monuments in the form of a black dog or jackal-headed human. In the Buddhist tradition, so-called Foo Dogs (actually miniature lions), were believed to guard the faith thanks to their supernatural protective powers. Other societies believed dogs were our distant ancestors, passing down to humans their best traits, like strength or bravery.

While many traditions recognized the role of dogs alongside hunters, other mythologies revered the animals for their nurturing abilities. For example, the allegory of Romulus and Remus begins with a wolf nursing the abandoned infants who would eventually found the city of Rome.

As the relationship between dogs and humans became increasingly domestic, more objects and household items featured imagery of dogs, from pottery and vases to fine jewelry and accessories. The animals were also aligned with newer religious traditions, most notably Christianity, which continued to heighten their faithful reputation.

As breeds diversified, specific types of dog became associated with particular moments in history. During the Renaissance, for example, lapdogs like Toy Spaniels or Shih Tzus became fashionable among the elite; today they remain symbols of affluence and luxury. The transition from hunting as a necessity to a leisure activity elevated the nobility of sporting breeds such as Greyhounds and Pointers to match that of their wealthy owners. And the St. Bernard still symbolizes protection and loyalty after a family of the animals gave lifesaving assistance to a group of monks in the Swiss Alps during the 1700s.

By the Victorian Era, dogs took center stage as subjects in artwork and design. Queen Victoria had many portraits commissioned of her favorite hunting dogs, and noble scenes of masters and their hounds were soon widespread on Staffordshire dinnerware.

Later breeds were celebrated for their famous owners, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fala or Richard Nixon’s Checkers. Spaniel-shaped cookie cutters or Scottie-topped ink blotters are just two examples from the flood of products that featured these breeds after they became celebrated as presidential companions...

The growth of mass marketing meant that dogs were also asked to lend their positive qualities to new products, whether confirming the indestructibility of Keds shoes or the reliability of John Hancock Life Insurance. Nipper, possibly the most well-known dog in advertising, first appeared in a painting titled “His Master’s Voice.” Used to sell audio equipment manufactured by the Gramophone Company in 1900, the image shows a young puppy with his head cocked listening to a phonograph. Nipper's images went on to promote HMV, Victor, and RCA.

In 1938, after witnessing the tragic sale of family dogs in depressed industrial areas, reporter Eric Knight wrote the original “Lassie Come Home” article for the "Saturday Evening Post" magazine. During the next 20 years, the story was expanded into a children's novel, a radio show, multiple films, and finally a television series. Accompanying the story’s success was a barrage of collectible memorabilia, from lunch boxes to lobby cards, perhaps the most bizarre being a series of campaign-style pinback buttons featuring the familiar canine face and reading “I voted for Lassie.”

While Lassie played into a longstanding cultural association between family dogs and the innocence of childhood, her popularity among children had secured a new audience for dog-centric stories. Throughout the 1950s, the animals continued to captivate kids in films like Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp” and “Old Yeller.” Meanwhile in the comic-strip universe, canine characters like Marmaduke and Snoopy became more popular than their human cohorts.

By this time, consumers wanted their dogs everywhere: on candy molds, bookends, and rugs; on teapots, table lamps, and jewelry. Figurines and paperweights were particularly fashionable, as these diminutive versions of the cuddly pets were simply irresistible to homemakers. British stalwart Royal Doulton produced a collection of regal hounds, and Fenton’s art glass paperweights ran the gamut from friendly lapdogs to brawny bulldogs.

Adorning your household with images of dogs conveyed a host of different meanings depending on the type of dog. One might choose decorative pieces featuring hounds to show perseverance and loyalty, while Scotties suggested warmth and compassion. Products featuring breeds like Collies and German Shepherds, widely loved after their portrayal on-screen, also proliferated.

Poodles were the trendiest breed, with a look that combined fun, femininity, and a touch of irreverence. The distinctive Poodle cut, originally created to provide better mobility in water when retrieving hunting spoils, made them a perfect fit for spaghetti art ware in the 1940s. These ceramic figurines are distinguished by their strands of spaghetti-like hair, created by pressing raw clay through a small screen or tea strainer, and were often cheaply made by Japanese potteries like Ucagco or Lefton. Another brief style was the poodle skirt, a calf-length felt skirt which came in bright colors with a contrasting dog appliqué.

Into the 1960s and '70s, the abundance of dog-themed productions aimed at children continued to spread, from television shows like "Huckleberry Hound," "Quick Draw McGraw," and "Scooby Doo" to feature films such as “101 Dalmations” and “Benji.” During the 1980s, in sharp contrast to the Disney dogs, Budweiser created the Spuds McKenzie character, a Bull Terrier that lived it up in a series of “Official Party Animal” ads.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Art Deco Era Left Facing Figural Bulldog Cast Iron Dog Hubley ? DoorstopLittlest Pet Shop Great Dane Dog, Blue & Brown Clover Eyes, Great Details! Antique American Clock Co Regulating Mantle Clock W/ Spelter Irish Setter DogLovely Radley Ry2185 Black Leather Scottie Dog Flower Strap Wristwatch - V26 I01Early 1900s Wilkins Cast Iron & Steel Horse Drawn Doctor Or Dog Cart - 12" LongRetired Lladro Girl & Ball Teasing Dog K9 5078 Fine Porcelain Figurine Nr NkbSchnauzer Dog Freehand Painted Large Genuine Leather Black Shoulder Bag ArtRoyal Copenhagen Brindle Boxer Dog. 3635. 1940'sVintage Lladro Porcelain 1068 Great Dane Dog Large 12" Figurine Statue1930's Fred Harvey Horse Dog Sterling Silver Green Turquoise Cuff Bracelet EucPre-war Black Americana Poor Pete & Bull Dog Celluloid Windup Toy Japan WorksSonnett Ceramic Corgi Sculpture: Shopping Trip With The Litter! (really?!) Ooak(4) Vintage Steiff Plush Animals Mecki Hedgehog Monkeys & DogRadley Ry2185 Ladies Black Dotty Dog Leather Strap Watch Rrp £65Lot Of 32 Fisher Price Great Adventure Imaginext Batman, Super Dog, Mr Freeze +Rare Vintage Michael Sutty Bone China Greyhound Figurine Hand Painted Made In UkSuperb Pair: Large Mid 19thc Staffordshire White & Gilt Spaniel Dogs No1 C1860sCa1850 Sixth Plate Daguerreotype Photograph Of A Boy And His Dog Beagle / HoundVintage 9ct Gold Pekingese Dog Bar Brooch - HeavyRadley Ladies Silver Tone Steel Bracelet Watch Dog Charm £99.95Antique Bronzed English Setter Hunting Retriever Pointer Dog Statue Doorstop Yqz9x Royal Doulton Bone China K Series Dog FiguresSonnett Ceramic Tri Corgi Sculpture: Sending Valentine Love Notes With Doves!Large Lladro Figurine 4719 Lady Empire Woman With Dog And Chair 19" HighSuperb Pair Of 19thc Staffordshire White & Gilt Seated Spaniel Dogs 1890sRare Antique Cast Iron Plaque Greyhounds Chase Rabbit Hunting Dog Racing Ca 1899Radley Ladies Doodle Dog Print Cream Strap Watch With Black Out Strips Ry2191Littlest Pet Shop Lps Unblemished Lot Of 50 Cat Dog Dachshund, Magic Motion BLot Of 3 Sterling Silver Jewelry Pins Brooches Beau Cat Scotty DogRetired Lladro Spain Study Buddies Boy With Dog 5451 Porcelain Figurine Nr NkbRet Lladro My Buddy Boy With Puppy Dog K9 7609 Society Porcelain Figurine Nr NkbVintage Lladro Porcelain 1067 Old Dog Hunting Hound Large 10" Figurine StatueSusan Kimmel Corgi Sculptures ~ "for You, With All My Heart." *ooak*Xrare Early American Yellow Ware Pottery Dog Figurine Hollow Jacqueline HodgsonBeautiful Sylvac Pair Of Dog Ornaments Terrier - 56 N30 Superb Pair: Large 19thc Staffordshire White & Gilt Seated Spaniel Dogs 1880s1850's Quarter Plate Ambrotype Photograph Of Hunting Dog And His MasterDisney Wdcc Lady & Tramp Figurine "trusty & Pup / Old Dog New Tricks" Box & CoaAntique Solid Silver Art Deco Large Lady Walking Dog Pin BroochRare Dahl Jensen Papillion Dog Figurine. 1075. 1950'sBalloon Dog Anatomical Model And Print By Jason Freeny Signed By ArtistSuperb Pair: 19thc Large Staffordshire Lustre & White Seated Spaniel Dogs C1890sWindstone Editions *grab Bag Tanuki * Fantasy Raccoon Dog Figurine Figure StatueAntique Bohemian Engraved Ruby Cut Glass Tumbler Beaker Hunting Dog Stags 19thcVintage Huge 18 1/2" Porcelain Saint Bernard Goebel Dog Figurine StatueVintage Jewellery Lovely Detailed Labrador Retriever Dog Tie & Lapel PinSuperb Mid 19thc Staffordshire Russet Red & White Spaniel Dog (no:2) C1860sRetired Swarovski Austrian Crystal The Dog #7685 Artist Signed Figurine Box Coa13 E20c Cold Painted Austrian & Lead Spelter Dogs,westie,airedale,spaniel EtcLittlest Pet Shop Cat And Dog Lot Of 12Superb Pair Large: 19thc Staffordshire Russet Red & White Spaniel Dogs C1880sDitmar Urbach Art Deco' Terrier Dog Box Hand Painted No Royal DuxLladro Figurine 5078 Girl Playing With Dog And BallVienna Bronze Dachshund Dog Sculpture/figurine+woodcarving/carved Wood-anri Era1891 J & E Stevens Cast Iron Dog Finial Bank Nr $450Vintage Royal Copenhagen Denmark B&g Girl With Her Puppy Dog #2316 Figurine Pair Vintage Chinese Porcelain Foo Dog Lions Figurine Statue Littlest Pet Shop Lps 909 Tan Pink Polka Dot Teardrop Dachshund Weiner Dog RareCostume Jewelry Pin & Brooch Lot W/ Butterfly Cat Dog Hummingbird As IsNib Paw Patrol 3pk Action Pack Pups & Badges Robo Dog Everest Rubble Three Pack