Other representations of dogs in art

Dogs have been depicted in various ways on coats of arms, coins and, more recently, postage stamps.

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Dogs in heraldry


The use of coats of arms began in the 11th century, at the time of the Crusades, because the lords were unable to tell each other apart in their heavy armour. They resolved that problem by wearing a personalised design that everyone was able to identify. The French and English were particularly imaginative in designing emblems expressing the qualities they wanted to represent. Fantastic animals were favoured initially, but they were gradually replaced by real animals.

Dogs were used from the beginning. They embodied one of the exclusive privileges of the nobility – hunting. Breed specifications started to appear as early as the 9th century, covering hunting and fighting dogs. By the 11th century, hounds and mastiffs adorned the coats of arms of English, Scottish and Irish lords. The coats of arms have since been adopted as emblems of large institutions, like the armed forces.

On coats of arms, dogs symbolise protection, vigilance, loyalty, obedience and gratitude. They are depicted in various heraldic attitudes: on their hind legs (with their back towards the edge), in profile, passant (striding), courant (running), sejant (sitting), couchant (lying) and rampant (rearing up). The colours, which also often have French names, are sable, gules (red), vert (green), azure, or (gold) and argent (silver). They constitute a code: an argent dog on a sable field signifies a loyal, steadfast horseman; an or dog on a gules field signifies a knight willing to die for his lord; and a sable dog on an or field signifies a knight in mourning for his lord. Dogs can also be used as supporters, the figures on either side of a coat of arms.

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Arms of the French Armed Forces


Every section of the French Army has its own coat of arms. The School of Non-Commissioned Officers of the Gendarmerie – Training Centre for Dog Handlers in Gramat is no exception. Designed by heraldry expert Robert Louis, its insignia was approved December 10, 1948.

The coat of arms is combined with the gendarmerie’s characteristic insignia: a 15th century plumed helmet in a three-quarters view atop a shield with a sword and a civic crown. On the shield below the helmet’s throat-piece is the gendarmerie’s grenade ornament. The plumed helmet is specific to this army corps. It evokes the origins of the gendarmerie, established in the 15th century by the High Provost Marshal as the Compagnie de la Connétablie et de la Maréchalerie. The shield features an unsheathed sword pointing upward as a symbol of force in the service of the law. The circular civic crown of oak branches was bestowed upon soldiers in Rome who had risked their lives to save others. The silver field is exclusive to specialised training centres. The ensemble evokes the mission of protecting citizens and helping those in danger. It emphasises the gendarmerie’s military origins and its military and civilian activities.

The coat of arms itself is exclusive to the training centre in Gramat. In the heraldic jargon, the field consists of azure and sable sections with an argent grenade ornament charger. Blue and black are the gendarmerie’s traditional colours, and the grenade ornament is its traditional badge. In the centre of the grenade ornament is a dog standing in front of red flames, signifying that dogs fear nothing, not even fire.

The coat of arms of Allerdale, in the UK, signifies the history and culture of the borough. One of the two supporters is a large dog with a fish’s tail: the marine dog. He refers to the activities of the coastal towns and to salmon fishing. The ship’s chain around his body refers to the ship building industry and mercantile maritime activities. His crook or represents local sheep-rearing.

Dogs in sport

If “sport is war minus the shooting”, as George Orwell claimed, then it should not be surprising that dogs are also featured on the logos and badges of many professional sports teams around the world. Strength, reliability, loyalty and aggressiveness are the key traits of dogs that clubs want to be associated with.

Dogs on coins

Coins from all ages feature dogs either as the main subject, part of a scene or a purely decorative symbol. Dogs are found more frequently on ancient coins than on modern ones.

The first known coins carrying images of dogs are silver or bronze. On these coins from 480-440 BC, dogs are the symbol of Segesta. The mythical origin of this city is attributed to Acestes, son of the nymph Segesta and the river god Crimisus, who took the form of a dog at their wedding. A dog appears on the reverse side of various coins featuring Segesta’s head on the obverse side. In the same period, heavy bronze coins were used in certain Italian regions. In the Latium-Campania series, a dog is shown running towards the left; in the Tuder-Umbrian series (the origin of the lira) a dog is shown lying down.

After dogs were featured on several small bronze coins of the Rome-Campania series minted around 210 BC, they appeared on the Roman Republic’s silver denarius.

This coin, minted extensively in Rome for economic and commercial reasons, is one of the most important, for it uses a variety of subjects to illustrate many aspects of the social, economic, historic and religious life of the period.

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Selected roman coins


82 BC: Magistrate Caius Manilius Limetanus evoked the touching scene in which the elderly Argos recognises his master Ulysses.
69 BC: A dog runs between the legs of the deer pulling Diana’s chariot.
64 BC: A sprinting Greyhound occupies the entire reverse of a denarius from the time of Caius Postumus.
60 BC: A hunting scene in which a dog attacks an injured wild boar.
45 BC: A dog running towards the right on a silver sesterce by Titus Crisius, and a dog at the feet of Diana with bow and arrows on a denarius from the time of Augustus.

Dogs are depicted on many coins from feudal times, mainly pieces of lesser value. A dog reclining with his head to the left appears on the reverse side of some coins from Tuscany, a dog tied to a tree appears on the lira from Milan under Philippe II of Spain (1556-1598), and a dog is shown as a winged figure on some smaller coins from Verona (1375-1381). The Gonzaga family showed the greatest interest in dogs, depicting the animal crawling, lying down and climbing. Their coins are characterised by an inscription surrounding the central dog figure and reading “Infensus feris tantum” (“Enemy of none but the big cats”). This inscription echoes nicely the highest praise of dogs as “man’s best friend”

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Selected contemporary coins from around the world

China (1982): 20-yuan and 200-yuan coins mark the year of the dog
Malta (1977): £1 coins depict the Pharaoh Hound
Canada (1997): 50-cent coins depict the Newfoundland, Nova Scotia Duck Toting Retriever, Labrador Retriever and Canadian Eskimo Dog
Somalia (2000): 10-shilling coins mark the year of the dog
Cook Islands (2003): 1-cent coins depict a Collie or Pointer

Dogs in philately


Dogs are an integral part of a country’s art and daily life, so it is only natural that they are also depicted on postage stamps, something that delights many philatelists. Whether as the main figure or as a detail that only clued-up collectors notice, dogs are one of the most popular themes in philately (stamps, books and postal logos). There are so many issues that philately clubs recommend collectors limit themselves to a subgroup (a breed or speciality) to keep things in perspective.

Dogs initially appeared on stamps in their country of origin. A superb Newfoundland was the very first “philately dog”, appearing on a stamp issued by the then British colony of the same name back in 1887. The Belgian Sheepdog appeared on Belgian stamps, while sled dogs were featured on stamps from the Nordic countries. When it became clear that dogs sold stamps they began to appear elsewhere, regardless of the origins of a particular breed, including Nicaragua, which issued stamps featuring an English Springer Spaniel.

Dogs also appear on stamps in a cultural guise, as part of a work of art or to represent a book or comic strip.

Postage stamps are issued to mark historic events, of course. China’s year of the dog is a favourite, while the famous Laika, the first dog in space, adorned many Soviet postage stamps. Stamps can also pay homage to assistance dogs and service dogs, such as guide dogs or those that search for missing persons. In some countries you can even immortalise your own dog by having it feature on your own personal postage stamps.

Passionate philatelists are also interested in the history of dogs in the postal service. In the 1940s mail was transported from one town to another by dog-pulled sleds. Earlier, during World War I, military kennels in France were designated a special postage paid cachet.

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