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    

3 Antique Signed Boris O'klein French Dirty Dogs Of Paris Etchings, No Reserve19thc Antique Bronze Whippet Dog & Cat, Bronze Sculpture Statue, NrAntique Early 20thc Solid Bronze English Setter Hunting Dog Sculpture Nr,antique 19thc Victorian English Staffordshire Green & Copper Lustre Spaniel DogRosenthal Porcelain Italian Greyhound Whippet Dog Figurine By T. Karner - 80Antique Cast Iron Hubley 275 German Shepherd Dog Figural Doorstop, NrHusky Dog Stuffed Animal Head Fluffy Plush Earmuff Beanie Hat Cap Outdoor GiftVintage Schoenhut Circus Bulldog Humpty Dumpty Performer Glass Eye DogDanbury Mint 1968 Hemi Plymouth Road Runner Mint Blue Red Lines Dog Dishes MoparVintage ~ C1920 ~ Spillers "shapes" Dog Biscuits Painted / Lithographed Tin SignTrifari Jelly Belly Pekingese Dog 1942 Alfred Philippe Trifari Pin Minor RepairSterling Silver James Avery Retired 3-d Poodle Dog CharmAncient Roman Hunting Dog Silver & Sard Intaglio Ring C. 2nd - 3rd Century A.dLittlest Pet Shop Genuine Hasbro # 893 Mocha Collie Dog (dark Tint Under Nose)Superb 18th Century Georgian Silver Repoussé Snuff Box Loyal Dog CartoucheBrand New Zoomer Your Best Friend Robot Dog Puppy ~spin Master~ Antique Miniature Cold Painted Lead Terrier Dog - Dolls House Pet - With MessageMattel Fisher Price Loving Family Lot Doll House Furniture Dolls Babies DogTps Clown Trainer Acrobatic Dog Windup Tin Toy Japan Original Boxed WorksRadley Ry2293 Ladies Red Spottie Dog Print Strap Watch Rrp £85. Brand New In BoxNymphenburg Limited Edition Large German Shepherd Dog Figurine With Garving SignRadley Ry2188 Ladies Cardinal Red Dotty Dog Leather Strap Watch Rrp £79.95Bonzo The Dog Figure With Dummy. G.studdy.Antique Vienna Bronze Cold Painted English Pointer Dog Figural Figurine N1Calico Critters Lot Of 6 New Baby Carry Case Set Cat, Dog, Lamb, BunnyVintage Signed Jewellery Rhinestone Scottie West Highland Terrier Dog Brooch PinBeswick 868 Rearing Huntsman & Horse 3 Foxhound Dogs & Fox A/f For Restoration8 Pc. Cybis Circus Figurines Clowns Elephant Seal Chimp Bear Horse & DogZoomer Dalmation, Interactive Robot Dog Puppy, Christmas Gift, Great Condition!Antique Hubley 1930's Solid Cast Iron Sitting Ears Down Boston Terrier DoorstopLego Denmark Vintage 1940's Wood Dog Ultra Rare Item Very Good ConditionAntique "bonzo The Dog" Wind Up Tin ToyLittlest Pet Shop Lot Of 45 Pets Poodle Cat Dog Parrot Pig Rabbit Huge Set LpsRetired Lladro Spain Country Lass W Dog #4920 Painted Porcelain Signed FigurineCalico Critters Lot Double Stroller Set/ride 'n Play Rabbit & Dog Family -babiesModern Lea Stein Style Plastic Dog Brooch, Marbled Orange And Black. UnsignedHtf Littlest Pet Shop Lps #67 Grey White Collie Puppy Dog Blue Eyes 2 Dachshund Bonzo The Dog Studdy German Porcelain Figure C1930s Ashtray Rare Smoking BonzoRare Eschenbach (efchenbach) Prof. Th. Karner Dachshund Dog Figurine 1930's Bonzo The Dog Fountain Pen. Complete And Boxed. George Studdy.Lot Of 50 Assorted Littlest Pet Shop Figures, 1 Fuzzy Gray Dog, 1 Glitter +Kimmel Original Sculptures ~ Corgi Thanksgiving Girl Pilgrim *ooak* No Reseve Dahl Jensen Figurine 1001 Wire Haired Fox Terrier Dog Royal CopenhagenEximious Italy Painted Art Pottery Jack Russel K9 Puppy Dog On Green Gold PillowRadley Ry2188 Ladies Cardinal Red Dotty Dog Leather Strap Watch Rrp £79.95Heavy Jumbo 18k Gold 1.40ctw Diamond/ruby/emerald Foo Dog PendantAntique Original Fritz Diller German Bronze Dog Plaque Boxer Or Great Dane NrStunning Vintage Estate Lapis Azuli Asian Foo Dog Guardian Brooch!!! G6696Maketoys Re:master Gun Dog Ver 2n TransformersRoyal Copenhagen 2753 West Highland Terrier Designed In 1926 By Knud KyhnZoomer Dalmation, Interactive Robot Dog Puppy, Christmas Gift, Great Condition!Antique Figural Bronze Scotty Dog Pocket Watch Holder Stand Display Hutch Littlest Pet Shop Lps Lot 70 Pets 40+ Accessories Dog Cat Nursery No Great DaneInteresting 19thc Staffordshire Boy Figure, Pair Of Poodle Dogs & Flags C1880sVictoria's Secret Pink Employee Pink Nation Mini DogSonnett Orig. Corgi Sculpture: I Have A Gift For You. And I'm Helping Open It!Superb Pr 19thc Staffordshir Porcelain Dogs With Lustre Markings C.1850Zoomer Zoomie Girl Robotic Dog Toy Interactive Robot- New With No BoxZoomer 6094488 Robotic Toy Robot Dog 303359 O16Littlest Pet Shop Genuine Hasbro #960 Chocolate Cocker Spaniel Dog (rubs)