The Bible tends to put dogs in a negative light, which may be appropriate: but I'm wondering if dogs of Bible times existed differently than our highly trained obedient breeds of our time.

Revelation 22:15

2 Kings 8:13

Matthew 15:27

Some dogs of our day actually perform some duties of a shepherd, being highly bred and refined. They are amazingly loyal and have a lot of empathy that most animals lack. In many ways they can be superior to sheep in domestic qualities (I'm not a sheep-herder, so I speculate).

So I ask a question based on the bible settings:

Were the dogs of biblical civilizations more wild or different than our highly refined ones of our day?

The only thing remaining in terms of the symbolism of the animal is it's extreme unclean habits.

What dog breeds and species (even non-domestic) were common among the Jews between the time of the exodus (which would include the Egyptian dogs) and the Christian era, where the 'little dogs' are seen in a positive light. What did a dog mean to an ancient Jew or ancient Christian?

  • 1
    Related question about tobiahs' dog hopefully your Bible is cool enough to have that pooch in it.
    – Peter Turner
    May 17, 2014 at 2:52
  • 1
    History.SE? DogBreading.SE? I don't see how this question is really related to Christianity specifically. Maybe Hermenuetics, but mostly History or something. Jun 4, 2014 at 13:06
  • @TheFreemason In the context of his question, he is asking about the ancient Jews of the Bible so this can't be in History. Why would this be about dog breeding? It's about the type and representation of dogs in the Bible. Not of modern times. Hermenuetics is the interpretation of Biblical verses. 1Up is basically asking the type and representation of dogs according to Christianity and the Bible because he is a student of prophesy. I don't see a verse there. If he is asking about a specific verse that mentions dogs than yes, it can be in BH.
    – Zoe
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:02
  • @Zoe We're going about this the wrong way... How is this about the doctrine of Christianity or a denomination? I'm not arguing that this is a bad question. I just don't see the fit in Christianity.SE. The question itself is asking for an "ancient Jew" context - which isn't Christianity. It sneaks in "or ancient Christian", but an ancient Jew is NOT an ancient Christian. I assume that ancient Judaism would be before 583BC (return from Babylon). Ancient Christianity would be somewhere after 30AD? The time lines don't meet. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:47
  • @TheFreemason Well, you're the one who suggested History and Dog Breeding hence my reply. Previously, the question asked, "Were the dogs of biblical civilizations more wild or different than our highly refined ones of our day". The question now asks, "...common among the Jews between the time of the exodus (which would include the Egyptian dogs) and the Christian times,..." Christianity regard the Bible in it's entirety, even those before the term "Christian" was coined because the Saviour that Christians believe in came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Jewish beliefs).
    – Zoe
    Jun 4, 2014 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


Today, as well as in ancient times, it depends on where you are.

A grave example is Romania. Under Ceaucescu the country underwent a forced industrialization that resulted in people flooding the cities. To make room they tore down houses and built high-rises. But as apartments (generally) was small etc. dogs were left on the streets where they was left to breed. Today it is close to an epidemic.


There are also a lot of other places around the world that has similar issues. Wild dogs, and half-wild etc. are generally sick ridden, full of flees, can be really dangerous, etc.

From what I have read one had the same issues back in the day. Dogs roamed around outside (and surely inside) the cities. (They licked the wounds of Lazarus.)

And let's face it. Dogs are scavengers as well as predators. There are even several passages where dogs eat the flesh of man.

They also kept domesticated dogs as we for example read in Job (one of the oldest books):

Job 30:1: But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock. (sheepdogs.)

In Mark we are presented with a verse that tells us dogs were also allowed in house (pets?):

Mark 7:28: And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs.

Dogs are lovely animals, but they can surely also be grim. Especially dogs that are not domesticated living from trash, carcasses, etc. There is also a reason we have expressions like dog-fights etc.

Even today it is common to use dogs as a way of low word. Bitch and "dog of a man".


Actually the word dog in GT has (mostly?) the strongs definition:

3611 keleb keh'-leb
from an unused root means. to yelp, or else to attack; a dog;
hence (by euphemism) a male prostitute:--dog.

Not the most positive one.

At the same time the Hebrew word for dog is "kelev" and from what I have read Caleb (with Moses) actually comes from "dog". We know Caleb was faithful, has a big heart etc. but if this has any linkage is pure speculation on my part. The 16th century rabbi Maharal wrote that a dog is called "kelev" in Hebrew as it comes from "“k’lev," which means "like the heart" ... ;)

The first passage I can find is Exodus 11:7

But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.

As such it is worth mentioning Egypt. Dogs was wholly for the Egyptians and the Abuwtiyuw is one of the earliest documented domesticated animals we know of. It is believed to have been a guard dog. There are also paintings like this one:

Naqada II (3500-3000 BC)

Generally dogs were used both as guard dogs, hunting dogs etc. in Egypt.

Find it difficult to say anything concrete about how dogs was used beyond as sheepdogs and (perhaps) some kind of house dog, but the verses about "throwing meat to the dogs" indicate that they might had dogs around beyond sheepdogs. If so the case of giving them unclean meat would also mean they acted like disposal animals. If not they would have had to get rid of unclean meat by other means.

Even though the word "dog" often are used in a negative setting the overall treatment of animals is very strict in the Bible. One shall treat them with respect and work animals are to be allowed to rest on Sabbath etc. In general: respect for the creation.

You might find this interesting:


Small addendum. Not that much on species. Have not found any good source on that topic, but came across this paper while searching that I guess you find interesting:

Geoffrey David Miller, Attitudes toward Dogs in Ancient Israel: A reassessment

The article also list quite a few resources that might shed some light on the topic of species.

  • Wow, also a wonderful answer. I especially like the insights regarding dogs neglected by societies and Job's "dogs of the flock". Also a great answer. So it would seem many things are similar to the old days.
    – user9485
    May 17, 2014 at 0:05
  • Again, wonderful answer. Both of these answers are great, but I accept this one because of the language references and wonderful connections in scripture.
    – user9485
    May 17, 2014 at 3:18
  • I liked your answer but reading it I got the impression you are talking about two (or more) types of dog that existed at the same time. One wild, one domesticated. Much like today where I see pretty rough dogs and tame dogs in the city - like in 'Lady and the Tramp'. May 17, 2014 at 9:26
  • I've updated the question. Your insights are very good, along with @Zoe's. I feel as though most of the question is covered between you two.
    – user9485
    May 17, 2014 at 21:26

From http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=dog&version1=KJV&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no, which is searching for the word "Dog" in the "King James Version", there are only 40 verses that mention dog/dogs. It's kinda surprising!

The very first mention of the word dogs is among the Lord's Law to Moses in Exodus 22

29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.

30 Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.

31 And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.

Note that in verse 29 and 30, the Lord addresses only one Israelite, denoted by the use of the t pronoun (most probably - the one who works and earns). However, in verse 31, the Lord uses the y pronoun, which means He meant that particular Law for every Israelite, men or women, of eany age, that they cannot eat the flesh of animals that have been killed by other animals but shall cast that kind of meat to the dogs. If the children did not have knowledge of the Law - this line shall the parents educate it unto them while the Laws with the t pronoun need not, since they have not come of age yet and could not work.

  1. From this verse, I conclude that the dogs in the days of Moses were carnivorous or scavengers but not predatory. From this, I would think of Hyenas and not the domesticated pet dogs.
  2. It may be that the word dogs is in referenced to something else. However, Law is clear and concise and not like a riddle or parable or metaphor so I would stick to my first conclusion.

I have to go to work now and I will give my take on the next 39 or so verses when I can. Peace to you and have a blessed day ahead!

  • Looking forward to hearing it! That is an insightful take on the "scavenger" evidence.
    – user9485
    May 16, 2014 at 23:53

I've come back from work and meeting and am free to research. However, I will just do another one as you have accepted another answer and it would look kinda silly for me to post a 10,000 word essay on dogs :P

Though, I have to say I'm not sure why I missed the very first one in Exodus 11:7, it's probably due to the fact that I searched for "dogs" first instead of just "dog".

Anyway, I shall answer your question with the biblical context since it's something I enjoy - studying the Bible with a goal. All verses are only KJV.

There are actually many references in the Bible about dogs that are more suited to the Hyenas of our time than the domesticated doggy dogs. The second verse I quote is from Deuteronomy 23:17-19,

17 There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.

18 Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God.

Whore and sodomite are referenced as a prostitute (whore for hire) and a dog respectively. However, it's interesting to note that it's not hire of a dog but price of a dog. In the literal context, the sodomite actually buys the dog! The meaning of sodomy is generally sexual activity between a human and a non-human (bestiality) but it may include any form of unfavoured sexual acts (immorality) including anal intercourse. Men are more prone to sexual immorality since cough it is easier for them, in a sense.

I searched homosexuality in animals and look who found a spot on the Wikipedia page? Yes, the Hyena!

Due largely to the female spotted hyena's unique urogenital system, which looks more like a penis rather than a vagina, early naturalists thought hyenas were hermaphroditic males who commonly practiced homosexuality. Early writings such as Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Physiologus suggested that the hyena continually changed its sex and nature from male to female and back again. In Paedagogus, Clement of Alexandria noted that the hyena (along with the hare) was "quite obsessed with sexual intercourse." Many Europeans associated the hyena with sexual deformity, prostitution, deviant sexual behaviour, and even witchcraft.

From this wiki, it would be safe to assume that the sodomite dog mentioned in Deuteronomy is,

  1. Definitely not just targeting the homosexual but every sexually immoral men.
  2. Is of the Hyena family, further evidence from this wiki,

The descendants of Plioviverrops reached their peak 15 million years ago, with more than 30 species having been identified. Unlike most modern hyena species, which are specialised bone-crushers, these dog-like hyenas were nimble-bodied, wolfish animals; one species among them was Ictitherium viverrinum, which was similar to a jackal. The dog-like hyenas were very numerous; in some Miocene fossil sites, the remains of Ictitherium and other dog-like hyenas outnumber those of all other carnivores combined. The decline of the dog-like hyenas began 5–7 million years ago during a period of climate change

This would really prove that the dogs of the Biblical times are probably Hyenas. But without science, every animal that looked like a dog was just called dogs. Furthermore, the jackal referenced in that wiki could be the Aardwolf which is often called the maanhaar jackal or civet hyena

There are of course, also domesticated (or tame, positive) dogs mentioned in the Bible as user129107 said in his answer. However, it is probably hard to discern from the Bible whether these dogs that actually have a positive light around them are actually from the same Hyena family or really are the dogs that look like our modern day german shepherds. However, I am pretty sure that when the dogs are in a negative light, it has to be a reference to the dog-like Hyena.

Hyenas were rampant way before our time and in larger number than other carnivores, I'm sure they were hard to miss with their public display of aggressive sexual activity :)

  • Thank you for this further insight. Its also exceptional. Strangely enough it seems as though between you and @user129107 there is a complete answer here. One shows the tendencies of the common dog we know, and you've elaborated on the doglike species (Heyenas and Jackals) of ancient times, which have great comparison to the sodomites and other dastardly personality types. I greatly appreciate this answer to. I'm going to extend this question so that we can get a complete depiction of the "bible dog" for future students landing here.
    – user9485
    May 17, 2014 at 21:05
  • I've updated the question!
    – user9485
    May 17, 2014 at 21:26

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