Dog/Pet Tattoos: Meaning and Symbolism

They say that a dog is a man’s best friend, but these days we would say that a dog is everyone’s best friend. Dogs really are amazing creatures and have been living and working with humans for thousands of years.

Their common ancestor is the grey wolf, but it’s thought that thousands of years ago, early human societies started to domesticate the friendliest and most adventurous wolves. Natural selection over many generations led to animals that also evolved with us and were friendly to us.

What Does Your Dog Mean to You?

There’s no doubt that people love their dogs. In fact, dogs are the only other animal on the planet that we know of that can react to and interpret human body language. Not even our closest primate relatives can do this without intense training.

Dogs are highly adaptable creatures and have learned to communicate with us far more easily than other animals. Did you know that dogs, unlike wolves, have even developed a special eye muscle that causes them to look sad so they can appeal to our emotions?

The importance of dogs, and indeed other animals, goes right back to our most ancient beginnings. For this reason, dogs have become associated with many meanings, including the following:

  • Loyalty and commitment
  • Curiosity
  • Communication
  • Trust and unconditional love
  • Truth
  • Adventure and friendship
  • Protection

Dogs in Popular Fiction

You don’t have to look far to see how dogs have been depicted in some of our most popular movies and literature. From Lassie to Beethoven, dogs have been there for us when we need them and often represent what we cannot say.

For example, Lassie is symbolic of the protective instinct of dogs. This famous Border Collie nurtures and protects other people by warning them of danger and seeking help.

Dogs are also often representative of communication and teaching. In movies like A Dog’s Life, the dog teaches us what life is all about. In this sense, they can be wise because they live in the moment and can teach us that every life has purpose if only we know where to look and what to accept.

Dogs in Ancient Times

Of course, dogs have not always been friendly. Just look at the mythical dog Cerberus in ancient Greek mythology. Cerberus was the three-headed snake-tailed guardian of the Underworld. Here, the dog represents something monstrous and scary, but even Cerberus symbolizes dogs’ protective instincts, as he was also there to protect dead souls.

There’s also a famous dog in the starry sky. Orion the Hunter has his faithful dog right by his side. In this context, the dog is powerful, brave, and courageous. It’s also indicative that our special relationship with canines goes back for thousands of years.

We should also not forget Sirius, the reddish Dog Star in the night sky. The people of Cynopolis worshipped the Dog Star of Sirius and it appears in many ancient images.

People might love their cats, but how many pets can boast that the ancient Egyptians dedicated an entire city to them? The ancient Egyptian city of Cynopolis was all about the humble dog. In fact, people who lived there were bound by law to care for all dogs with great diligence and respect.

Even in the far east of Japan, the dog is associated with important meaning. You’ll see large guardian dogs outside temples. And dogs in Japan and other parts of Asia have long been associated with good luck and good fortune.

Should You Get a Dog Tattoo?

Given the long association between humans and dogs, it’s no surprise that dog tattoos are one of the most popular kinds of tattoos. Indeed, many dog owners simply want a dog tattoo to be reminded of their beloved furry friend. And many people get dog tattoos inked in memory of a great dog friend that has passed through the veil.

Dog tattoos are not just about memories though. People have close relationships with dogs, and many people feel a kinship with them in a spiritual sense. As dogs are also considered guides on the road of life, a dog tattoo can symbolize your dedication to living in the present moment and practicing unconditional love.

Dog Tattoo Advice

There are plenty of dog tattoo variations, but here are some that have proven to be popular:

Foo Dog Tattoo

The Foo Dog, as it is commonly known, is a Chinese lion-dog that serves as a fierce guardian. In fact, Foo Dogs like this have been depicted for centuries in Chinese and Buddhist art.

This lion-dog is protective and fierce. It serves as a guardian, but these tattoos will often be composed of two Foo Dogs, as representative of the concept of Yin and Yang. And even though the Foo Dog is a fierce guardian, it also symbolizes calmness in Buddhism, and those with a Foo Dog tattoo are thought to derive strength, wisdom, and calmness from it.

If you want this type of tattoo and you relate deeply to it, you may want to dedicate a large space to it on your body. Ideally, two Foo Dogs will represent Yin and Yang, and they also tend to be highly detailed and contain colorful inks.

The Dog Paw Tattoo

The dog paw tattoo is ideal for a first timer or someone who simply wants a much smaller and less visible tattoo. The dog paw is immediately recognizable and can represent your own dog or your association with dog qualities such as playfulness, loyalty, communication, and so on.

Some people even get their own dog’s paw tattooed on them to serve as a reminder of their beloved furry friends. A simple paw print can easily be translated to a tattoo and can serve as a lifelong reminder of a special dog.

What about Other Pets?

Of course, dogs are not the only companion animal that gets the tattoo treatment. Cats are also a popular tattoo design choice for many of the same reasons. Undoubtedly, cats have been important in ancient times, such as in Egypt, and people will often get cat symbols inked if they feel a deep kinship with them.

It’s also not unheard of for people to have other types of pets inked on their bodies as well. Whether you’re remembering a favorite hamster or a long-lived goldfish, there’s no doubt that a tattoo is a good reminder of your relationship to them. And in the case of so many animals, there are also many meanings associated with them.


Animal tattoos have been used for centuries by many human cultures, but the concept of the pet is relatively recent. Most types of animals aren’t domesticated, so our pets tend to be companion animals, such as dogs, cats, and so on. As such, both the dog and the cat are very popular subjects as tattoos.

Those who have a deep affection for their pet may want to remember them through a tattoo. Dogs especially have a long history of meaning and symbolism that dates back to our ancient past. And those who get a dog tattoo may feel a profound relationship to the character of the dog and what they represent.

9 Dog/Pet Tattoo Examples

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