DOG (Canis familiaris; Pers. sag; sagtūla “puppy”; Av. span-, Median *spaka-; Loṟī say, lās “bitch,” sayu “puppy” [Digard, 1981, p. 34]; Pašto spay, spie “bitch” [Dupree, p. 49]; Semnānī esbá; Sang. əsbá; Kajalī of Ḵalḵāl esbé; Ṭālešī of Vīzna səba; Abyānaī kuyā).


J.-P. Digard, Techniques des nomades Baxtyâri, Cambridge and Paris, 1981.

L. Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton, N.J., 1978; repr. Princeton, N.J., 1980.

i. In literature and folklore.

ii. In Zoroastrianism.

iii. Ethnography.





The dog was the first animal to be domesticated (Olsen, p. xi), probably from the wolf (Canis lupus), according to the fossil record. At paleontological sites in northern China and elsewhere hominids (Homo erectus pekinensis) and small wolves (Canis lupus variabilis) were found together in Middle Pleistocene levels, dating approximately 500,000-200,000 years ago (Hall and Sharp; Olsen, pp. 15, 41-42). The prevailing hypothesis is that wolves would have been attracted to human encampments by the smell of food and refuse; their territorial growling at intruders then came to serve as an early-warning system for the camp. Canid bones are found in refuse heaps near but not in Paleolithic camps, whereas bones of domesticated dogs are first found within Neolithic camps, evidence that the process of domestication must have been slow and gradual (Olsen, p. 18; La Barre, p. 48). F. E. Zeuner (pp. 39, 83) has rejected this hypothesis, however, suggesting that it was the scavenging habits of wolves that brought the animals into human camps and that some pups may have been adopted by the inhabitants, leading eventually to domestication of the animal.

The earliest remains of the domestic dog in the Near East, predating those in Europe, were found in Palegawra cave in northeastern Iraq; they have been dated to 12,000 B.P. and seem to be structurally close to the so-called “Kurdish dog” (Olsen, pp. 71-72). In a study of the beginning of animal and plant domestication in southern Persia Frank Hole and his colleagues concluded from osteological evidence, first, that the dog had probably been domesticated in Ḵūzestān by 5500 B.C.E.; second, that it was probably descended from the local variety of wild wolf (Canis lupus pallipes); and, third, that the condition of some canid bones is evidence that dogs were used as food in some areas (cf. Olsen, pp. 74-75). Remains of domesticated dogs have also been found at the site of Ḥājī Fīrūz in Azerbaijan (radiocarbon-dated to 5500-5100 B.C.E.; Meadow, p. 6).

Four kinds of Persian hunting hounds were reported by the classical authors: Elymaeans from the northeastern shore of the Persian Gulf; Hyrcanians and Carmanians, known for their savagery; and Medians, which were great fighters (Aelian, 3.2, 7.38; Grattius; Pollux, Onomasticon; cf. Hull, pp. 26-29). Aside from Zoroastrian funerary rites (see ii, below), pre-Islamic Persians used the dog not only for hunting and herding but also in war (Fiennes, pp. 28-29; cf. Aelian, 7.38). Persians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Babylonians used large mastiffs as shock troops; one Athenian dog so distinguished itself against the Persians at the battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E) that its likeness was supposedly placed on Greek victory monuments (Aelian, 7.38). Indian dogs were highly prized among the Persian aristocracy; Xerxes I (486-65 B.C.E.) reportedly took a large number of them with his army when he marched against Greece (Herodotus, 7.187). One of the Persian satraps of Babylon assigned the revenues derived from four large villages in that province to the care of his Indian hounds (Herodotus, 1.192). A dog belonging to Darius III (336-30 B.C.E) supposedly refused to leave his corpse after he had been struck down by Bessus (q.v.; Aelian, 6.25, 7.10). Dogfights must also have been common in ancient Persia (Grattius, apud Fiennes, p. 11). Alexander the Great was said to have received a gift of four fighting dogs from Indians (Aelian, 8.1). The Persian phrase sag-e kārzārī (war dog) may refer either to canine warriors or merely to dogs trained for dogfights (Šāh-nāma,Moscow, III, p. 166).

Myths about the Creation and Domestication of the Dog.

Pre-Islamic myths. According to the Bundahišn (13.10), all animals were created from the purified semen of the primordial bull. Ten varieties of dog are mentioned (13.18; tr. Anklesaria, p. 121; tr. Bahār, p. 79), of which only the guard dog, the sheep dog, and the hunting dog can properly be considered dogs. The dog is said to have been created to protect man’s possessions against wolves; in its opposition to evil it cooperates with the cock and is able to repel evil by its mere gaze (Bundahišn 24.38, 24.48; tr. Anklesaria, pp. 201, 203; tr. Bahār, p. 103). In ancient Persian folk etymology the word sag (dog) was derived from seh-yak (one third) because one third of its essence is human (Bundahišn 13.28; tr. Anklesaria, pp. 123-25; tr. Bahār, pp. 79-80).

Islamic myths. Three distinct myths of the creation of the dog can be reconstructed from Islamic texts. According to a tradition related on the authority of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb, when Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise Satan came to the beasts of the earth and encouraged them with violent cries to attack and devour the couple; his spittle flew out of his mouth, and God fashioned a male and a female dog from it. The male was sent to guard Adam and the female to protect Eve. The enmity between the dog and wild animals was thus initiated (Damīrī, II, p. 298; Jazāʾerī, pp. 57-58; ʿAbbās Qomī, II, p. 488; Ḥāʾerī, XXV, p. 99; cf. Persian Rivayats, ed. Unvala, I, p. 256). In a second version God created the dog from the clay left over (baqīyat al-ṭīn) from His creation of Adam (Fozūnī, p. 490; cf. Anwarī, I, p. 88), which may lie behind the assertion in some sources that dog bones and tissue may be grafted to the human body (Balāḡī, p. 204; Tonokābonī, p. 222). The third myth may be deduced from a tradition about the taboo on eating the dog’s flesh because the animal is “metamorphosed” (mamsūḵ; Kolaynī, VI, p. 245); the implication is that human sinners are transformed into dogs and that eating the flesh would be a form of cannibalism. This notion of transformation of sinners is widely attested in Muslim lore and literature. For example, Ebn Abī Donyā (d. 281/894) cited a tradition according to which those who use foul language against others will be resurrected in the form of dogs (p. 404). Rašīd-al-Dīn Meybodī, author of a Sufi exegesis on the Koran (comp. ca. 520/1126), declared that usurers would be raised as dogs and pigs on the Day of Judgment (I, p. 747). Baʿlam (Meybodī, III, p. 271; Ḥakīm Termeḏī, p. 17) and Šemr b. Ḏi’l-Jawšan (d. 66/686), the slayer of Imam Ḥosayn, supposedly suffered punishment by being transformed into dogs (Massé, Croyances,pp. 185-86; Šakūrzāda, p. 308 n. 1; ʿAbbās Qomī, II, p. 539). In about 1935 in Mašhad a woman who had ridiculed the miraculous events associated with the death of Imam Ḥosayn was supposed to have been transformed into a dog (Donaldson, p. 159).

A tradition about the domestication of the dog was related on the authority of Ebn ʿAbbās: When Adam was cast out of heaven and attacked by Satan, God reassured him and sent Moses’ staff as a means of defense; Adam struck a dog with it, but God commanded him to pat the animal on the head. The animal thus became domesticated, befriending Adam and his seed (Ḥakīm Termeḏī, p. 16).

The dog in Islamic law.

Dogs are mentioned four times in the Koran (5:4, 7:176, 18:18, 22). Ignaz Goldziher argued that in the time of the Prophet Moḥammad the dog was not considered unclean (pp. 9-10). In later Islamic legal texts they are said to be unclean (najes be’l-ʿayn), but the use of guard dogs, sheep dogs, and especially hunting dogs is allowed (Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ṭūsī, I, pp. 92, 94), as trained dogs are considered livestock (bahīma). Their sale, purchase, and rental are permissible (Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ṭūsī, II, pp. 165-66, III, pp. 57, 250). The flesh of game killed by a hunting dog is not unclean, provided that it is not itself a forbidden animal (Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ṭūsī, VI, pp. 256-62; Meybodī, III, p. 32; ʿAlī Qomī, I, pp. 162-63; Kolaynī, VI, pp. 202-04, 207; Ebn Taymīya, p. 325). There are, however, some qualifications in Sunni law books regarding the use of hunting dogs trained by non-Muslims. In one tradition, disallowed by some authorities, it is alleged that the Prophet Moḥammad forbade the flesh of game brought down by a hunting dog trained by Zoroastrians (Albānī, p. 170). Shiʿite legal authorities hold, however, that, if the hunter himself is Muslim, it does not matter who trained the dog (Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ṭūsī, VI, p. 262). There is some doubt about the permissibility of the flesh of game brought down by a black dog (Kolaynī, VI, p. 206), which may reflect a general Near Eastern association of the black dog with the devil (cf. Thompson, motifs G303.6.1.6, G303.; Woods, s.vv. dog, black dog; see below).

Mālek b. Anas (d. 179/796) permitted the use of money from the sale of a dog for making the pilgrimage to Mecca (Damīrī, II, p. 291). Trained dogs taken as spoils of war could be given by the imam to whoever might need them (Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ṭūsī, II, p. 31; Damīrī, II, p. 291). Killing or maiming a dog requires payment of fines to the owner (Jāḥeẓ, I, pp. 217, 293; ʿAbbās Qomī, II, p. 488). Conversely, the owner is legally responsible for personal injury or damage to property committed by his dog (Moḥammad b. Ḥosayn Ṭūsī, VIII, p. 79), as well as for preventing the dog from being a nuisance (Ḡazālī, I, p. 523; Damīrī, II, p. 291). The question whether or not animals may enter paradise seems to have engaged a number of legal authorities, who reached a compromise according to which only three (in some sources four) animals were said to be allowed to enter, the faithful dog of the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” (Aṣḥāb al-kahf) being one of them (ʿAbbās Qomī, II, p. 488; Mobārakšāh, p. 268; cf. Jāḥeẓ, III, p. 395; Damīrī, II, p. 262).

The dog in epic and legend.

Accounts of feral children raised by various animals are widely attested (Thompson, motif B535), though often legendary, but it can be verified that human children have been nursed by dogs (Jāḥeẓ, II, pp. 155-56; Gutman, p. 40; cf. Radbill). Several heroes, gods, and legendary figures of antiquity were supposed to have been nursed by dogs (Leach, pp. 273-75; Binder, pp. 17-57). Herodotus (1.122) reported a legend according to which Cyrus the Great had been suckled by a bitch. Similarly the author of Mojmal (ed. Bahār, p. 104) attributed the violent nature of “the father of Soqlāb” to his having been nursed by a dog. In the Bahman-nāma violent men are repeatedly likened to those who have been nursed by dogs (Īrānšāh, p. 268 v. 4379). In some oral versions of the Šāh-nāma Afrāsīāb is said to have owed his violent temper to his having been suckled by a bitch (Enjavī, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 96-97); the wicked king Żaḥḥāk is said to have been nursed by a she-wolf (Enjavī, 1357 Š./1978, p. 23). Another ruthless epic character, Boḵtonnaṣr (Nebu-chadnezzar), was supposedly so hideous that his parents had no choice but to expose him, but he survived, thanks to a bitch who came to nurse him three times a day (Enjavī, 1973b, p. 27).

The legendary Armenian king Ardāvāzd was said to have been put in chains on Mount Māsīs; his hunting dogs tried to free him by chewing through his chains. Armenian blacksmiths ceremonially pound their anvils before quitting work at the end of each week, in order magically to restore the tyrant’s chains (Thompson, motif A1074.7; Enjavī, 1357 Š./1978, pp. 316-17). According to a contemporary Boir Aḥmadī story, the messianic ruler Kayḵosrow is hidden with his horse and hunting dog in a cave in the province of Fārs (Enjavī, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 294-95). Aside from the expected association of kings with hunting dogs in epic literature, dogs fulfill other roles in Persian heroic tales. According to a famous tale in the Šāh-nāma and other sources, Bahrām V was awakened to the oppression of his tyrannical vizier as a result of witnessing a shepherd’s treatment of his treacherous sheep dog, which, having grown enamored of a she-wolf, was allowing the latter to ravage his master’s flocks (Thompson, motif B267.1; Mostawfī, p. 113; Neẓām-al-Molk, pp. 25-26). In a curious version of the epic of Ardašīr I a great dog, rather than the ram usually mentioned in the text, is said to have followed him during his flight (Fozūnī, p. 418).


The dog in mystical literature.

Because of the dog’s humble position in Persian life, it became a symbol of humility in mystical literature (see Nurbakhsh). According to some Muslim sources, Jesus scolded his apostles for criticizing the stench of a dog’s carcass, rather than appreciating the whiteness of its teeth (Zamaḵšarī, II, p. 175; Jāḥeẓ, II, p. 163; ʿAṭṭār, 1364 Š./1985, p. 302). Noah (Nūḥ, in popular etymology derived from an Arabic root associated with mourning) is said to have received his name because God scolded him for expressing disgust at a dog, which inspired him to bitter lamentation for his deed (Meybodī, IV, pp. 381-82). The mystic Maʿšūq Ṭūsī once struck a dog with a stone, and immediately a divine horseman appeared and whipped him, exclaiming that in the eyes of God the ascetic is essentially no better than the creature that he mistreats (ʿAṭṭār, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 46-47). Many mystics proclaimed that dogs had first taught them humility (ʿAṭṭār, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 155-56; idem, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 196, 314-15; Meybodī, I, p. 447; Bahāʾ-al-Dīn ʿĀmelī, 1268/1852, pp. 14-17; Damīrī, II, p. 257; Fozūnī, p. 533). According to one tradition from the Prophet, dogs are better than some base humans (Meybodī, I, p. 615; Damīrī, II, p. 253). In a similar vein a mystic cursed a moʾaḏḏen for his call to prayer while praising a dog because its bark was praising God (Meybodī, III, p. 172; cf. Damīrī, II, pp. 251, 257).

The dog in folk medicine.

Reflecting the belief that bones and tissue from a dog could be successfully grafted to the human body (see above), the Persian physician Bahāʾ-al-Dawla, in his Ḵolasat al-tajāreb (comp. 906/1501 at Ray; apud Elgood, p. 229), reported that an Indian doctor residing there had successfully grafted a piece of dog’s skin to the scalp of a patient suffering from impetigo (saʿfa). He first removed the patient’s scalp under anesthesia, then grafted the dog skin to the scalp and treated the wound with various ointments. The transplant worked, and the patient was cured.

Rabies, the disease that most dramatically affects the dog, aroused much concern because it is highly communicable to humans. Many pre-Pasteurian cures are mentioned in the folk medicine of various peoples (Thompson, motif D1515.5; cf. Forbes, pp. 13-14). In one of the earliest Arabic medical texts a remedy for rabies made from the spleen or liver of a rabid dog is included (Ṭabarī, p. 426; cf. Jorjānī, pp. 640, 651; Mostawfī, p. 49; Ebn Boḵtīšūʿ, fol. 93a; Tonokābonī, p. 222; cf. Aelian, 14.20; for other reported treatments of rabies, see Damīrī, II, pp. 252, 297; Ḥāseb Ṭabarī, pp. 51, 110; Šakūrzāda, pp. 253, 275).

Dog’s milk was considered a strong antidote against poison, and drinking it was supposed to facilitate the exit of the dead fetus and the placenta from the womb. Women were allowed to suckle newborn dogs, in order to relieve the blockage and pain of gorged breasts (Tonokābonī, p. 222; Katīrāʾī, p. 36). Dog’s urine was used in treatment of abscesses and warts. Dogs were also used in treatment of infectious and poisonous bites (for other alleged uses of dogs in treating diseases, see Ebn Boḵtīšūʿ, fols. 7b, 15b, 94a; Hedāyat, p. 115; Jāḥeẓ, I, p. 245, II, p. 205, VII, p. 89; Jorjānī, pp. 395-96, 651; Massé, Croyances, pp. 339, 345; Šakūrzāda, pp. 249, 628; cf. Forbes pp. 13-14; Selous, pp. 229-30).

The dog in magic.

The association of the dog with the devil may have motivated several attempts at eradicating the animal. The Prophet Moḥammad (and later Yūsof b. Ḥajjāj) was said to have ordered all dogs to be put to death but to have modified his order to apply only to black dogs, especially those with two spots (noqtatayn) over their eyes (Meybodī, III, p. 31; Jāḥeẓ, I, pp. 262, 291-93, II, pp. 153, 293, IV, p. 295; Ebn Qotayba, II, p. 81; Ḥoṣrī, p. 184; Zamaḵšarī, III, p. 451; Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, pp. 987-88; Damīrī, II, pp. 288-89; cf. Rāḡeb, II, p. 665; Donaldson, p. 159; Rudkin).

The black dog figures prominently in magic. Its satanic connections mean that harming it may bring injury or misfortune to the perpetrator (Hedāyat, p. 138; Massé, Croyances, p. 197). In Khorasan it is believed that he who kills a dog will lose a child or experience seven years of bad luck (Šakūrzāda, p. 321). Such beliefs may at least partly reflect pre-Islamic taboos against harming dogs (see ii, below), reinterpreted to conform to the Islamic association of the animal with evil. For example, by the 9th century Zoroastrian concern for the welfare of dogs had already come to be viewed as an attempt to avert the evil eye. ʿAmr b. Baḥr Jāheẓ (II, p. 131; cf. Zamaḵšarī, III, p. 452) reported that the Persians, fearing the evil eye, did not eat in front of animals, especially dogs. In at least one Shiʿite source this prohibition was attributed to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb (Ḥāʾerī, XXV, p. 100); nevertheless, according to one tradition, Imam Ḥasan was seen eating in front of a dog, to which he gave a piece of bread for each piece that he ate himself (ʿAbbās Qomī, II, p. 488; cf. Bayhaqī, V, p. 189). According to folk belief, withholding food from a watching dog causes bulimia (maraż-e jūʿ; Hedāyat, pp. 138-39, cf. Massé, Croyances, p. 205). Bess Allan Donaldson (p. 159) reported that Persians do not allow dogs near them at mealtime for fear of their evil breath. The pre-Islamic ritual of sagdīd was also reinterpreted and rationalized by some Muslim authors. Jāḥeẓ (I, p. 375, II, p. 289; cf. Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Ṭūsī, p. 583), for instance, explained that the reason Zoroastrians exposed their dead to dogs was that the animals’ sharp sense of smell would permit them to ascertain whether indeed the persons had died or were merely unconscious (for mistaken attribution of sagdīd to the Romans, rather than the Zoroastrians, see ʿAbbās Qomī, II, p. 487; Damīrī, II, p. 252).

Dogs are believed able to see devils and fairies (Thompson, motif E421.1.3), and this belief figures in some prophetic traditions (Damīrī, II, pp. 257, 288-90; Zamaḵšarī, II, p. 579, III, p. 451; cf. Donaldson, pp. 36, 45, 159; Penzer, II, p. 117). It may have given rise to stories of the animals’ forecasting the rise and fall of great men (see, e.g., Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Ṭūsī, p. 497, on the demise of Neẓām-al-Molk). They were also believed to served as mounts for witches (Damīrī, II, p. 259).

A number of practices connected with sympathetic magic involved dogs or things associated with dogs in efforts to cause conflict in or ruin a household (Ebn Boḵtīšūʿ, fol. 94a; Tonokābonī, p. 222; for a story connecting dogs with drunkenness, see Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Ṭūsī, pp. 323-24; Fozūnī, p. 476; cf. Ḥāseb Ṭabarī, pp. 39, 207). Belief in the evil nature of the dog is expressed in such superstitions as that seeing a dog first thing in the morning is a bad omen and that passing between two dogs brings bad luck (Šakūrzāda, p. 321; Massé, Croyances, p. 289). Dogs were also to be avoided if one were wearing certain charms, for their gaze or proximity would nullify the effects (Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Ṭūsī, p. 148). In the village of Kohnak in Ḵūzestān a more widespread belief that throwing water on a cat will cause warts on the hands has been extended to the dog (Karīmī, p. 44).

Naturally such a potent animal would occasionally be of use against harm as well. Wearing the canine teeth of a rabid dog on the forearm or carrying the tongue of a black dog would ward off attacks by rabid animals; hanging the teeth of a dog around the neck of a teething child would facilitate the process. Wearing the dried penis of a dog on one’s thigh would increase sexual appetite (Ṭabarī, p. 426; Damīrī, II, pp. 296-97; Ḥāseb Ṭabarī, pp. 19, 24, 207; Ebn Boḵtīšūʿ, fol. 94a; cf. Donaldson, pp. 30, 160-61; Katīrāʾī, p. 91; Kalāntarī, p. 28). The brain of a whelp might be used in magic rituals (Hedāyat, p. 116; Massé, Croyances, p. 314). Pouring diluted dog’s milk on the head of the bewitched and fumigating a house suspected of bewitchment with smoke from the dung of a white dog have been considered strong apotropaics in this century (Donaldson, pp. 160-61). Dogs were also believed able to procure the potent mandrake (mehr-gīāh) root (cf. sagkan “uprooted by dogs,” one of the Persian names for the mandrake; Hedāyat, p. 122; Katīrāʾī, p. 354; cf. Penzer, III, pp. 153, 158; Frazer, II, p. 381; Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Ṭūsī, p. 326; Ginzberg, V, p. 298; Balāḡī, p. 217).

In dream lore a dog generally represents a weak enemy, a hunting dog a wise one (došman-e ʿālem); Kurdish and Turkish dogs are interpreted as foreign enemies. Dreaming of a dog that tears one’s flesh or clothes is a warning of an impending fierce fight or a base rival who may overcome the dreamer. Similarly a bitch symbolizes a shrewish wife (Ḵᵛāb-goḏārī, pp. 337-38; cf. Damīrī, II, p. 297). It is related that the Prophet dreamed that a spotted dog was lapping his blood; upon awakening he interpreted the dream as a harbinger of the martyrdom of his grandson Ḥosayn at the hands of a man suffering from vitiligo (Damīrī, II, p. 255). There is almost unanimous agreement in Persian folklore regarding the ominousness of a howling dog (Šakūrzāda, p. 321; Hedāyat, p. 138; Massé, Croyances, p. 191; Ṭāhbāz, p. 71; Karīmī, p. 44; Aʿẓamī Sangesarī, 1349 S./1970b, p. 53; Dānešvar, II, p. 230; Enjavī, 1352-54 Š./1973-75, I, p. 10; Tawakkolī, p. 71). Not only death but also earthquakes and pestilence may be divined from the howling of dogs (Donaldson, p. 159). Weather is also predicted from dogs’ behavior: A dog rolling in dust signals the approach of stormy weather, whereas lying down in the shade in the cold foretells approaching warm weather (Šakūrzāda, p. 338; Ṣadīq, p.75). In Gīlān, if jackals howl and dogs howl back, the weather will be good the next day (Rabino, tr., p. 34). In Shiraz the first snowfall is called “dog snow” (barf-e sag), and it is believed that no one should eat it (Faqīrī, p. 71). Belief in the association of dogs with weather conditions led to a number of magical practices aimed at improving the latter. In Ḵorram Darra in Azerbaijan, for instance, a ritual called sag-davānī (running the dog) is aimed at halting cold weather and blizzards. The inhabitants find and surround a dog, chasing and beating it until it is completely exhausted; having driven it away, they believe they have also cast out cold weather (Enjavī, 1352-54 Š./1973-75, II, p. 9).

Practical uses of the dog (see iii, below).

Hunting dogs were highly prized by both nobility and commoners (Mojmal, ed. Bahār, pp. 70, 364). It was believed that they should have long limbs, small heads, and protruding eyeballs (Nozhat al-qolūb, ed. Le Strange, p. 49). Royal hunting dogs were ordinarily adorned with gold and fine fabrics (ʿAṭṭār, 1341 Š./1962, p. 149-50; Asadī Ṭūsī, p. 416). Aristocrats also used dogs as official tasters. The mother of the caliph Hārūn al-Rašīd (170-93/786-809) was said to have averted death by giving a dish suspected of poison to a dog (Mojmal, ed. Bahār, p. 340). According to a number of stories, some kings kept ferocious dogs to which they threw their opponents to be devoured (Neẓāmī Ganjavī, pp. 146-49; Fozūnī, p. 531; Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, II, 57-60; cf. Penzer, II, p. 121; Thompson, motif Q415.1; Faqīhī, pp. 194-95; Margoliouth and Amedroz, Eclipse, p. 58).

Frequent reference to testing the sharpness of a blade on dogs is also found in Persian texts (Mojmal, ed. Bahār, p. 331; ʿAṭṭār, 1338 Š./1959, pp. 162, 413; Ṣafā, p. 7). In a related vein swords were treated with a concoction of dog’s blood and human urine, in order to ensure that wounds would be fatal (Ḥāseb Ṭabarī, p. 209).

Although the Prophet forbade animal fights (see Tawḥīdī, 1408/1988, I, p. 210; cf. Albānī, s.v. Jehād 30; Abū Dāwūd, s.v. Jehād 51), the practice is well attested in the Persian cultural area in the Islamic period (Jāḥeẓ, II, pp. 163-64, V, p. 246; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, III, pp. 16, 177-78 n. 23). Sometimes dogs were made to fight other animals. Jāḥeẓ reported an instance of a fight between a cock and a dog (I, p. 376; cf. Čahār maqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, p. 60). Evidently those of a yellow or reddish color were preferred (Moḥammad b. Maḥmūd Ṭūsī, p. 584; Ebn Boḵtīšūʿ, fol. 91a).

There seems to have been a class of people called sagbān or sag-banda (dog keeper), whose profession was caring for dogs (Meybodī, I, p. 615). Dogs were trained and highly prized for particular abilities. Jāḥeẓ mentioned dogs trained to balance lamps on their heads and to carry lists and money to grocers, who would place the required merchandise in pouches to be carried to the dogs’ masters (II, p. 179; cf. Zamaḵšarī, IV, pp. 435-36). There are also reports of bestiality involving dogs (Jāḥeẓ, I, pp. 369-71, 373, III, p. 203; Rāḡeb, III, p. 257).

Dogs in fable and folktale.

Many fables about dogs in the Aesopian corpus are also found in Persian folklore and literature. Perhaps the most famous is about the dog that drops meat (or a bone) for its reflection in the water (Thompson, motif J1791.4; Arne and Thompseon, type 34A; Bodker, p. 950; Thompson and Roberts, p. 270; Daly, no. 133; Amīnī, p. 283; cf. ʿAṭṭār, 1364 Š./1985, p. 154; Boḵārī, p. 66; Brockelmann). Others have been classified by Ulrich Marzolph (s.v. Hund), who has also provided a convenient list of tale types about dogs in Persian folk narrative.

Tales of the dog’s fidelity are particularly well represented in oral and written sources. In one version (Arne and Thompson, type 178A; Thompson, motif B331.2) a dog (or sometimes a mongoose) saves a child from a serpent by biting the latter to death; the child’s father sees the dog’s bloody mouth and, thinking that it has eaten his child, kills the animal, then finds out the truth (Boḵārī, p. 214). A related story (Arne and Thompson, type 178B) is more common. A man leaves his faithful dog as security for a debt; the dog saves the creditor’s life, and the latter sends the dog back to its master with an appreciative note tied around its neck, forgiving the debt. Seeing the dog approaching, the debtor thinks that it has escaped and thus dishonored him. Angrily he kills it and then finds the letter (Fozūnī, p. 531; for a study of this tale, see Emmeneau). In other tales a murdered man’s hound either attacks and kills its master’s slayers or points them out to the authorities by barking (Ebn al-Jawzī, p. 244; Damīrī, II, pp. 253-54; Fozūnī, pp. 531-32); this type of tale goes back to the ancient Greeks (Aelian, 7.113). The dog’s fidelity unto death is exemplified in the tale of a man whose dog remains with his corpse and dies from the canine equivalent of a broken heart (e.g., Mostawfī, p. 282; cf. Aelian, 6.25, 7.10). There are also reports of dogs who supposedly rescued their masters from death or danger (Zamaḵšarī, IV, p. 421; Ebn al-Jawzī, pp. 223-24, 245-46; Fozūnī, p. 532-34; Enjavī, 1973a, pp. 353-55, 402-03, idem, 1973b, pp. 209-10, idem, 1976; pp. 168-71).

Turning people into dogs by magic or by wishing is commonly attested in the folk and written traditions (Rāzī, IX, p. 16; Meybodī, III, p. 790; Qorṭobī, VII, pp. 320-21; Enjavī, 1973a, pp. 375-76, 384-85, 396-97). Alternatively a persecuted individual may hide in a hound’s skin and live a dog’s life, rather than risk discovery (Enjavī, 1973a, pp. 80-83).



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There was evidently an Indo-European belief in supernatural dogs of death (Schlerath), and these appear in the Rigveda as the “four-eyed” hounds of Yama, who watch along the path which departed souls take to their future abode (Keith, II, pp. 406-07). In Vidēvdād 19.30 two dogs are said to stand at the Činvat bridge (see ČINWAD PUHL), by the female figure (the Daēna) who there confronts the soul, and in Vidēvdād 13.9 these are called the “two bridge-protecting dogs” (spāna pəšu.pāna).

Mortal dogs receive a striking degree of attention in the “legal” (dādīg) books of the Avesta, notably in the Vidēvdād and the almost wholly lost Duzd-sar-nizad, the contents of which are known from Dēnkard 8. The two chief categories of dog (Vd. 13.8 and passim; Ardā Wīrāz nāmag 48.4) are the herd dog (pasuš.haurva, lit., “cattle protecting”; Pahl. sag ī šubānān) and house dog (viš.haurva, lit. “house protecting”; Pahl. sag ī mānbānān). Their duties only are defined (Vd. 13.17-18). To them are added the vohunazga (Vd. 13.8), which other Avestan and Pahlavi contexts suggest was a masterless dog, loosely attached to the local community; and finally the tauruna (Vd. 13.15), apparently a young dog (linked by a simile with a youth who has put on the sacred girdle; Vd. 13.23), presumably not yet trained.

Gratitude is required of men toward the herd and house dog, for Ahura Mazdā is represented as declaring: “No house would stand *firmly founded* for me on the Ahura-created earth were there not my herd dog or house dog” (nōiṱ mē nmānəm vīδātō hištənti ząm paiti ahuraδātąm yezi mē nōiṱ åŋhāṱ spā pasuš.haurvō vā viš.haurvō vā; Vd. 13.49). Responsibility toward dogs is repeatedly linked with responsibility toward humans. In the Huspārām Nask the proper quantities of food are listed for man, woman, child, and the three kinds of dogs (Dēnkard 8.37.1). A sick dog is to be looked after as carefully as a sick person (Vd. 13.35), a bitch in whelp as solicitously as a woman with child (Vd. 15.19). Puppies are to be cared for for six months, children for seven years (Vd. 15.45). There is a partly playful account of how the dog combines the characteristics of eight kinds of people (Vd. 13.44-48), and a description of him as created by Ahura Mazdā “self-clothed, self-shod, alertly watchful, sharp-toothed, sharing the food of men, to watch over (man’s) possessions” (hvāvastrəm xᵛā.aoθrəm zaēni.buδrəm tiži.dąsurəm vīrō.draonaŋhəm gaēθanąm harəθrāi; Vd. 13.39). “Having/sharing the food of men” (vīrō.draonaŋhəm) is to be taken literally. In Vidēvdād 13.28 it is enjoined that a dog is to be given milk and fat together with meat (xšvisca āzūitišca gə̄uš maṱ), staple articles of the diet of pastoralists.

According to a lost Avestan passage, preserved through Pahlavi translation in the Bundahišn (tr. Anklesaria, 13.28), the dog was created “from the star station for the protection of beneficent animals, as if blended of beneficent animals and people” (az star pāyag . . . pānagīh ī gōspandān rāy, čun gumēzag az gōspandān ud mardōhmān). Because he was held to be of moral character, his corpse was thought to be surrounded, like a good person’s, by triumphant evil powers, and so was highly contaminating. Hence one of the places where earth suffers most is where the bodies of men and dogs are buried (Vd. 3.8). If a dog dies in a house, fire is to be taken out of that house, as when a person dies (Vd. 5.39-40), and the dog’s body is to be carried like a human’s to a place of exposure (Vd. 8.14).

Like a human’s, it contaminates the path over which it is carried, which is then to be purified by a living dog being led over it, for a dog was thought capable of driving away Nasu, the corpse demon which brings putrefaction. The dog used for this task was ideally “tawny with four eyes (or) white with tawny ears” (zairitəm caθru.cašməm spaētəm zairi.gaošəm; Vd. 8.16). There seems an echo here of the supernatural four-eyed dogs of Yama, though for a mortal creature the characteristic is understood, by later Zoroastrians at least, as having two flecks of different-colored hairs just above the eyes (Jackson; Boyce, Stronghold, p. 140 and n. 3). Because of the belief that a dog could drive away contaminating demons it was also to be present at the ritual cleansing known later as the barašnom-e nō šaba (Vd. 8.37, 8.38; see BARAŠNOM).

It seems probable that this power came to be attributed to the dog because dogs are the animals always referred to in the Avesta as devouring corpses, and, as they (presumably, that is, the vohunazga dogs, which would have followed the corpse bearers to the exposure place) were able to do this with impunity, it was plain that the corpse demon could not harm them. (On similar corpse eating by the dogs of modern African pastoralists see Boyce, p. 100 n. 56; see also CORPSE; DEATH). Thus a Pahlavi gloss on the vohunazga dog of Vidēvdād 13.19 is “he smites Nasu” (nasūš ē zanēd; Pahlavi Vendidād, p. 283.)

Respect for dogs was maintained in later Zoroastrianism, with most of the usages enjoined in the Avesta being continued, and some even elaborated. With the general building of funerary towers, the disposal of corpses was left to carrion-eating birds; but the dog was still used to help drive off Nasu at the barašnom-e nō šaba, and the additional rite of sagdīd (lit., “seen by the dog”) was evolved, evidently from the belief that he has the power to do so. For this rite a dog (male and at least four months old) was brought to look at a corpse before it was carried to the daḵma, in order to lessen the contamination. The rite is first attested in the late Sasanian Šāyest nē šāyest (chap. 2), with what appears to be a supportive interpolation in the Vidēvdād sāde (between 7.2 and 7.3; given in Avesta, tr. Darmesteter, II, p. 97). In time the rite came to be performed three times for each corpse (at death, when it was placed on the bier, and outside the daḵma) and also during each gāh if the funeral were delayed (Modi, pp. 58, 63).

The dog was induced to go up to the corpse by three bits of bread being placed on or by it. For Iranians bread had long replaced meat as the staple of diet, and three pieces of bread had become the recognized “portion for the dog” (in Zor. Pers. the čom-e šwa, in Parsi Gujarati the kutrā-nō būk). In Saddar naṯr 31.1 it is enjoined that “whenever people eat, they should keep back three morsels from themselves and give them to a dog,” and this was general practice in the Irani and Parsi communities down into the present century (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 143, 145 n. 11). In one of the Persian Rivāyats (ed. Unvala, I, pp. 256.19-257.4; tr. Dhabhar, p. 259) it is said that, if a person does this, he will be saved from even due torments in hell, while Ardā Wīrāz sees the soul of a man suffering in hell who had withheld food from dogs (Ardā Wīrāz nāmag 48.4). In Saddar naṯr 31.5 it is said that food was given because the donor hoped that the dogs of the Činvat bridge would aid his soul, and sometimes still in recent usage the daily čom-e šwa was given at sunset in the name of someone departed, in the hope of helping him or her in the hereafter (Boyce, Stronghold, p. 144).

At every Zoroastrian religious service there is invocation of the fravašis, the souls of the dead, and the link of the dog with death and the soul brought it about that on holy days and at memorial rites the čom-e šwa was augmented by portions of everything consecrated at the “outer” religious service, including always a whole egg, symbol of immortality. This was given to a dog by someone (preferably, at a memorial service, a close relative) in a state of ritual purity and with recital of Avestan. A portion of the food offerings for the dead was thus always given to a dog (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 143-44, 158; Modi, pp. 404, 350). During the three days after death, if there were no house dog, a lane dog would be tied up in the courtyard (Persia) or on the verandah (Gujarat) and given food for the soul’s sake at every mealtime, and then, in Persia, once a day outside the house for the next forty days (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 153 and n. 30, 158).

As a distinct usage, the tongue of every sacrificed animal was consecrated with a Hōm drōn (service dedicated to Haoma) and given to a dog to eat (Boyce, Stronghold, p. 158). Until the mid-20th century when a house dog died its body was wrapped in an old sacred shirt tied with a sacred girdle, and was carried to a barren place (cf. Šāyest nē šayest 2.7), and brief rituals were solemnized for its spirit (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 162-63). All rites in which dogs are concerned have been under attack by reformists since the mid-19th century, and have by now been wholly abandoned by them, and are much curtailed even by the orthopractic.



(For cited works not found in this bibliography, see “Short References.”) M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism. Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour, Columbia Iranian Series 7, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1992.

A. V. W. Jackson, Persia Past and Present, New York, 1909; repr. New York, 1975.

A. B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, 2 vols., Harvard Oriental Series 31-32, Cambridge, Mass., 1925; repr. Delhi, 1970.

J. J. Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, Bombay, 1937; repr. New York, 1986.

Pahlavi Vendidād, tr. B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1949.

B. Schlerath, “Der Hund bei den Indo-germanen,” Paideuma 6, 1954, pp. 25-40.






In contrast to attitudes toward the dog in pre-Islamic Persia (see ii, above), those of Persian and Afghan Muslims, like those of the majority of Muslims everywhere, are generally hostile (Bousquet). They consider the animal unclean (najes) and as much as possible avoid direct contact with it. Consumption of the flesh of the dog, like that of all carnivores, is absolutely proscribed (ḥarām). According to Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, it is even forbidden (makrūh) to keep a dog in the house (Donaldson, p. 159). Canine pets are thus unknown in Persia, except among the most westernized minority in the northern quarters of Tehran. In Afghanistan there is “an urban pet, called papi, [that] at least superficially resembles the spitz of southern Siberia and farther north” (Dupree, p. 50), but that is a marginal instance; the general tendency in the Iranian world is to avoid, even to maltreat dogs, to the point that in Afghanistan “Europeans have been known to spend time in local jails for taking issue with an Afghan flogging his dog” (Dupree, p. 49).

Such attitudes have resulted in the proliferation of stray dogs, especially in the cities, where they find nourishment in various kinds of garbage, thus playing a not insignificant role as scavengers; they also pose numerous problems of health (e.g., rabies) and security, however, justifying periodic extermination drives. As for Afghanistan, according to Louis Dupree (p. 50), “packs of dogs nocturnally roam the streets of the larger cities, particularly Kabul. Periodically, the police liberally distribute poisoned meat throughout Kabul. The survivors, however, live quite well off the land. I tend to grade the level of poverty in Asian cities by examining the state of the urban dog-population. Those in Kabul appear fatter and healthier than most I have seen elsewhere in Asia.”

Despite this prevailing hostility, there is no shortage of examples in Persian culture of opinions and behavior less unfavorable to the dog. Already in the Vidēvdād important virtues were recognized, and in one passage it was prescribed that six-month-old puppies be fed by young girls, who would thus earn the same merit as if they had been guardians of the sacred fire (Voutsy, 1989, p. 369; cf. Hovelacque, passim). An analogous message is to be found in a poem by Saʿdī (p. 85). A man finds a thirsty dog in a desert. Using his hat and turban, he draws water from a well to serve the dog. For this meritorious act God forgives all his sins. Some Sufi masters held the dog in high esteem because of its virtues: courage, devotion, fidelity, and so on. Their few negative comments have recently been explained with considerable condescension (Nurbakhsh) as having resulted from the inevitable influence exercised on Sufi literature by surrounding Muslim tradition.

At any rate, it is clear that in practice Persians recognize and treat differently several categories of dog. In fact, since antiquity hunting dogs and sheep dogs have been distinguished from the mass of roaming city and country dogs. The hunting dogs were mainly coursers (Pers. tāzī, Afghan bārakzā), used for hunting gazelles, onagers, and rabbits. They were often very expensive and received special training and care, as well as exceptionally favorable treatment. Hunting with such dogs was strictly codified; they were not to be trained by non-Muslims and were not permitted to kill the game (Donaldson, p. 159). This kind of hunting, an aristocratic privilege par excellence, has almost disappeared in Persia, though it remained common in Afghanistan in the 1970s (Dupree, pp. 215-17).

On the other hand, sheep dogs (in Persia sag-e galla, in Afghanistan sag-e rama, sag-e torkestānī, Pašto da ramay spay) are working animals and are very widely used. In contrast to Western sheep dogs (Planhol), they are essentially only mastiffs, which do not intervene except to defend domestic flocks against thieves and predatory animals (e.g., wolves, bears, lynxes, panthers). They are thus often provided with spiked collars or straps (Papoli-Yazdi, p. 332), and sometimes their tails and ears are clipped, in order to provide less purchase for the teeth of carnivores and to increase the acuity of their hearing (Digard, 1981, p. 63). These dogs (two to five per flock) are fed (coarse bread or wheat-flour cakes) only by the shepherds, to whom they become attached; they are aggressive and dangerous toward strangers. Such dogs can also be very important in guarding cultivated fields (Digard, 1981, p. 246), caravans (Dupree, pp. 49-50), and nomad tents and thus play a substantial role in the internal organization of encampments (Digard, 1980). All guard dogs are treated fairly harshly. Nevertheless, only these dogs and horses are given proper names: Gallepā (guardian of the flocks), Ḵersī (like a bear), Palang (panther), Nahang (crocodile, not to be confused with its recent meaning “whale”), and so on.

A few animals are selected for their size and fierceness and trained as fighting dogs. Until recently such fights took place every Friday in Kabul, where they were the occasion for considerable betting (Dupree, pp. 50, 217). In Persia and Afghanistan (as formerly in many other parts of the Islamic world) the dog thus has a highly ambiguous status, depending ultimately more on the functions that the animal fulfills than on social norms, which are often contradicted or simply ignored in practice.



(For abbreviations found in this bibliography, see “Short References.”) G.-H. Bousquet, “Des animaux et de leur traitement selon le Judaïsme, le Chris-tianisme et l’Islam,” Stud. Isl. 9, 1958, pp. 31-48.

J.-P. Digard, “Chiens de campement et chiens de troupeau chez les nomades Baxtyâri d’Iran,” Stud. Ir. 9/1, 1980, pp. 131-39.

Idem, Techniques des nomades Baxtyâri d’Iran, Cambridge and Paris, 1981.

Idem, L’homme et les animaux domestiques. Anthropologie d’une passion, Paris, 1990.

B. A. Donaldson, The Wild Rue. A Study of Muhammadan Magic and Folklore in Iran, New York, 1938; repr. New York, 1973.

L. Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton, N.J., 1978; repr. Princeton, N.J., 1980.

A. Hovelacque, Le chien dans l’Avesta. Les soins qui lui sont dus, son éloge, Paris, 1876.

Dj. Nurbakhsh, Dogs from a Sufi Point of View, London, 1989.

M.-H Papoli-Yazdi, Le nomadisme dans le nord du Khorassan, Paris and Tehran, 1370 Š./1991.

X. de Planhol, “Le chien de berger. Développement et signification géographique d’une technique pas-torale,” Bulletin de l’Association des Géographes Français 370, 1969, pp. 355-68.

Saʿdī, Būstān, ed. Ḡ.-Ḥ. Yūsofī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1985.

F. Viré, “À propos des chiens de chasse saluqi et zagari,” REI 41/2, 1973, pp. 321-40; repr. in Production pastorale et Société 16, 1985, pp. 71-77.

M. Voutsy, “Un chien en Sorbonne. Vers une anthro-pologie du chien,” in Une galaxie anthropologique. Hommage à Louis-Vincent Thomas, Saint-Mandé, France, 1989, pp. 353-79.


(Mahmoud Omidsalar and Teresa P. Omidsalar, Mary Boyce, Jean-Pierre Digard)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: November 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 5, pp. 461-470